« PreviousContinue »
Parliament, and that those gentlemen will always be most faithful to the King, that receive the King's money. ! shall grant, my Lords, that such gentlemen will be al. ways the most faithful, and the most obedient to the minister ; but for this very reason I should be for excluding them from Parliament. The King's real interests, however much he may be made by his ministers to mistake it, must always be the same with the people's; but the midister's interest is generally distinct from, and often contray to both: therefore, I shall always be for excluding, as much as possible, from Parliament, every man who is under the least inducement to prefer the interest of the minister, to that of both king and people; and this I take to be the case of every gentleman, let his estate and family be what they will, that holds a pension at the will of the minister.
Those who say they depend so much upon the honour, integrity and impartiality of men of family and fortune, seem to think our constitution can never be dissolved, as long as we have a shadow of a Parliament. My opinion, my Lords, is to very different, that, if ever our constitution be dissolved, if ever an absolute monarchy be estak. lished in this kingdom, I am convinced it will be under that shadow. Our constitution consists in the Houses of Parliament being a check upon the crown, as well as upon one another. If that check should ever be removed, if the crown should, by corrupt means, by places, pensions and bribes, get the absolute direction of our two Houses of Parliament, our constitution will, from that moment, be destroyed. Tbere would be po occasion for the crowo-to proceed any farther. It would be ridicu. lous to lay aside the forms of Parliament; for, under that shadow, our king would be more absolute, and might govern more absolutely, than he could do without it. A gentleman of family and fortune would not, perhaps, for the sake of a pension, agree to lay aside the forms of government; because, by his venal service there, he earns his infamous pension, and could not expect the continuance of it, if those forms were laid aside; but a gentlemen of family and fortune may, for the sake of a pension, whilst he is in Parliament, approve of the most blundering measures, consent to the most excessive and
useless grants, enact the most oppressive laws, pass the most villadous accounts, acquit the most heindus criminals, and condemn the most innocent persons, at the desire of that minister who pays him his pension. And if a majority of such House of Parliament consisted of such men, would it not be ridiculous in us to talk of our constitution, or to say we had any liberty left. This misfortune, this terrible condition, we may be reduced to by corruption; as brave, as free a people as we, the Romans, were reduced to it by the same means; and to prevent such a horrid catastrophe, is the design of this bill.
If people would at all think, if they would consider the consequences of corruption, there would be no occasion, my Lords, for making laws against it. It would appear so horrible, that no man would allow it to approach him. The corrupted ought to consider, that they do not sell their vote, or their country only; these, perhaps, they may disregard ; but they likewise sell themselves; they become the bond slaves of the corrupter, who corrupts them, pot for their sakes, but for his own. so man ever corrupted another, for the sake of doing him a service. And therefore, if people would but consider, they would always reject the offer with disdain. But this is not to be expected. The histories of all countries, the bistory even of our own country, shows it is not to be depended on. The proffered bribe, people think, will satisfy the immediate craving of some infamous appetite ; and this makes them swallow the alluring bait, though the liberties of their country, the happiness of their posterity, and even their own liberty, evidently depend upon their refusing it. This makes it necessary in every free statę, to contrive, if possible, effectual laws against corruption, and as the laws we now have for excluding pensioners from the other House are allowed to be inef. fectual, we ought to make a trial, at least, of the remedy now proposed; for, though it should prove ineffectual, it will be attended with this advantage, that it will put us upon contriving some other remedy that may
be effectual ; and the sooner such a remedy is contrived and applied, the less danger we shall be exposed to of falling into that fatal distemper, from which no free state, where it has once become general, has ever yet recoy... ered
II.-Lord Mansfield's Speech, in the House of Lords, 1770,
on the Bill for the further preventing the Delays of Justice, by reason of Privilege of Parliament. Y LORDS_When I consider the importance of this
bill to your Lordships, I am not surprised it has taken up so much of your consideration. It is a bill, indeed, of no common magnitude ; it is no less than to take away from two thirds of the legislative body of this great kingdom, certain privileges and immunities, of wbich they have long been possessed. Perhaps there is no situation the human mind can be placed in, that is so difficult and so trying, as when it is made a judge in its own
There is something implanted in the breast of man, so attached to self, se tenacious of privileges once obtained, that, in such a situation, either to discuss with impartiality or decide with justice, has ever been held as the summit of all human virtue. The bill now in question puts your Lordships in this very predicament; and I doubt not but the wisdom of your decision will convince the world, that where self-interest and justice are in opposite scales, the latter will ever preponderate with your Lordships.
Privileges have been granted to legislators, in all ages and in all countries. The practice is founded in wisdom; and, indeed, it is peculiarly essential to the constitution of this country, that the members of both Houses should be free in their persons, in cases of civil suits; for there may come a time, when the safety and welfare of this whole empire may depend upon their attendance in Parliament. God forbid that I should advise any measure that would in future endanger the state-but the bill bea fore your Lordships, has, I am confident, no such tendenay; for it expressly secures the persons of members of either House, in all civil suits. This being the case, I confess, when I see many noble Lordé, for whose judgment I have a very great respect, standing up to oppose
bill, which is calculated merely to facilitate the recov. ery of just and legal debts, I am astonished and amazed. They, i doubt not, oppose the bill upon public principles. I would not wish to insinuate, that private interest had the least weight in their determination.
This bill has been frequently proposed, and as fre
quently miscarried; but it was always lost in the Lower House. Little did I think, when it had passed the Commons,
that it possibly could have met with such opposition here. Shall it be said that you, my Lords, the grand council of the nation, the highest judicial and leg. islative body of the realm, endeavor to evade, by privilege, those very laws which you enforce on your fellowsubjects ? Forbid it justice ! I am sure were the poble Lords as well acquainted as I am, with but halt the difficulties and delays occasioned in the courts of justice, under pretence of privilege, they would not, nay they could not oppose this bill.
I have waited with patience, to hear what arguments might be urged against the bill, but I have waited in vain; the truth is, there is no argument that can weigh agajost it. The justice and expediency of the bill are such as render it self-evident. It is a proposition of that nature, that can neither be weakened by argument, nor entangled with sophistry. Much, indeed, has been said by some noble Lords, on the wisdom of our ancestors, and how differently they thought from us. They not only decreed, that privilege should prevent all civil suits from proceeding, during the sitting of Parliament, but likewise granted protection to the very servants of members. I shall say nothing on the wisdom of our ancestors; it might, perhaps, appear invidious; that is not necessary in the present case. I shall only say, that the noble Lords who flatter themselves with the weight of that reflection, should remember, that as circumstances alter, things themselves should alter. Formerly, it was not so fashionable either for masters or servants to run in debt, as it is at present. Formerly, we were not that great commercial nation we are at present; nor, formerly, were merchants and manufacturers members of Parlia. ment, as at presen. The case now, is very different; both merchants and manufacturers are, with great propriety, elected members of the Lower House, - Com. merce having thus got into the legislative body of the kingdom, privilege must be done away. We all know that the very soul and essence of trade, are regular payments; and sad experience teaches us that there are men, who will not make their regular payments, with
out the compulsive power of the laws. The law, then, ought to be equally open to all; any exemption of particular men, or particular rapks of men, is, in a free and commercial country, a solecism of the grossest nature.
But I will not trouble your Lordships with arguments for that which is sufficiently evident without any. I. shall only say a few words to some noble Lords, who foresee much inconveniency from the persons of their servants being liable to be arrested. One 'noble Lord observes, that the coachman of a Peer may be arrested while he is driving his master to the house, and consequently, he will not be able to attend his duty in Parliament. If this were actually to happen, there are so many methods by which the member might still get to the House, that I can hardly think the noble Lord is serious in his objection. Another noble Peer said, That by this bill one might lose their most valuable and honest servants. This I hold to be a contradiction in ternes; for he can neither be a valuable servant, por an honest man, who gets into debt, which he is neither able nor willing to pay, till compelled by law. If my servant, by unforeseen accidents, has got in debt, and I still wish to retain him, I ceriainly would pay the debt. But upon no principle of liberal legislation whatever, can my servant have a title to set his creditors at defiance, wbile for forty shillings oply, the honest tradesman mày be torn from his family, and locked up in a gaol. It is monstrous injustice! 1 flatter myself, however, the de. termination of this day will entirely put an end to all such partial proceedings for the future, by passing into a law, the bill now under your lordships' consideration.
I come now to speak upon what, indeed, I would have gladly avoided, had I not been particularly pointed at, for the part I have taken in this bill. It has been said, by a noble Lord on my left hand, that I likewise am running the race of popularity. If the noble Lord means by popularity, that applause bestowed by after ages, on good and virtuous actions, I have long been struggling in that race; to what purpose, all-trying time can alone determine ; but if the noble Lord means that mushroom popularity, that is raised without merit, and lost without a crime, he is much mistaken in his opinion. I defy the