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Proclamation : and the Act of Parliament enjoins the disclosure, not of the pretext, but of the cause ; so that it appeared to be doubtful whether even the letter of the law had been obeyed ; but if it had, to this mode of professing one motive and acting upon another, however agreeable to the habits of some men, I thought it my duty to dissuade the House of Commons from giving any sanction or countenance whatever.
“ In a prudential view, surely information ought to precede judgment; and we were bound to know what really was the state of the country, before we delivered our opinion of it in the Address. Whenever the House is called upon to declare an opinion of this nature, the weight which ought to belong to such a declaration, makes it highly important that it should be founded on the most authentic information, and that it should be clear and distinct. Did the House mean to approve the measure taken by Administration, upon the ground of the public pretence of insurrections? If so, they were bound to have before them the facts relative to those insurrections, to the production of which no objection could be stated. Did they mean by their address to declare that the general situation of the country was in itself a justification of what had been done ? Upon this supposition, it appeared to me equally necessary for them so to inform themselves, as to enable them to state with precision to the public the circumstances in this situation to which they particularly adverted. If they saw reason to fear impending tumults and insurrections, of which the danger was imminent and pressing, the measures of his Majesty's Ministers might be well enough adapted to such an exigency ; but surely the evidence of such a danger was capable of being submitted either to the House or to a Secret Committee ; and of its existence without such evidence, no man could think it becoming for such a body as the House of Commons to declare their belief.
“ If, therefore, the Address was to be founded upon either of the suppositions above stated, a previous inquiry was absolutely necessary. But there were some whose apprehensions were directed not so much to any insurrections, either actually existing, or immediately impending, as to the progress of what are called French opinions, propagated, as it is supposed, with industry, and encouraged with success; and to the mischiefs which might in future time arise from the spirit of disobedience and disorder, which these doctrines are calculated to inspire. This danger, they said, was too notorious to require proof; its reality could better be ascertained by the separate observations of individual members, than by any proceeding which the House could institute in its collective capacity; and upon this ground, therefore, the Address might be safely voted, without any previous inquiry.
“ To have laid any ground for approving without examination, was a great point gained for those who wished to applaud the conduct of Administration ; but in this instance I fear the foundation has been laid without due regard to the nature of the superstructure which it is intended to support ; for, if the danger consist in false but seducing theories, and our apprehensions be concerning what such theories may in process of time produce, to such an evil it is difficult to conceive how any of the measures which have been pursued are in any degree applicable. Opinions must have taken the shape of overt acts, before they can be resisted by the fortifications in the Tower; and the sudden imbodying of the militia, and the drawing the regular troops to the capital, seem to me measures calculated to meet an immediate, not a distant mischief.
“ Impressed with these ideas, I could no more vote upon this vague reason, than upon those of a more definite nature ; since, if in one case the premises wanted proof, in the other, where proof was said to be superfluous, the con
clusion was not just. If the majority of the House thought differently from me, and if this last ground of general apprehension of future evils, (the only one of all that were stated, upon which it could with any colour of reason be pretended that evidence was not both practicable and necessary,) appeared to them to justify the measures of government; then, I say they ought to have declared explicitly the true meaning of their vote, and either to have disclaimed distinctly any belief in those impending tumults and insurrections; which had filled the minds of so many
thousands of our fellow subjects with the most anxious apprehensions ; or have commenced an inquiry concerning them, the result of which would have enabled the House to lay before the public a true and authentic state of the nation, to put us upon our guard against real perils, and to dissipate chimerical alarms.
“ I am aware, that there were some persons who thought, that to be upon our guard was so much our first interest, in the present posture of affairs, that even to conceal the truth was less mischievous than to diminish the public terror. They dreaded inquiry, lest it should produce light; they felt so strongly the advantage of obscurity in inspiring terror, that they overlooked its other property of causing real peril. They were so alive to the dangers belonging to false security, that they were insensible to those arising from groundless alarms.- In this frame of mind they might, for a moment, forget, that integrity and sincerity ought ever to be the characteristic virtues of a British House of Commons; and while they were compelled to admit that the House could not, without inquiry, profess its belief of dangers which (if true) might be substantiated by evidence, they might, nevertheless, be unwilling that the salutary alarm (for such they deemed it) arising from these supposed dangers in the minds of the people, should be wholly quieted. What they did not themselves credit, they might wish to be believed by others. Dangers, which they considered as distant, they were not displeased that the public should suppose near, in order to excite more vigorous exertions.
“ To these systems of crooked policy and pious fraud, I have always entertained a kind of instinctive and invincible repugnance; and if I had nothing else to advance in defence of my conduct but this feeling, of which I cannot divest myself, I should be far from fearing your displeasure. But are there, in truth, no evils in a false alarm, besides the disgrace attending those who are concerned in propagating it? Is it nothing to destroy peace, harmony, and confidence, among all ranks of citizens ? Is it nothing to give a general credit and countenance to suspicions, which every man may point as his worst passions incline him? In such a state, all political animosi ties are inflamed. We confound the mistaken speculatist with the desperate incendiary. We extend the prejudices which we have conceived against individuals, to the political party, or even to the religious sect of which they are members. In this spirit a judge declared from the bench, in the last century, that poisoning was a Popish trick; and I should not be surprised if bishops were now to preach from the pulpit, that sedition is a Presbyterian or a Unitarian vice. Those who differ from us in their ideas of the constitution, in this paroxysm of alarm we consider as confederated to destroy it. Forbearance and toleration have no place in our minds ; for who can tolerate opinions, which, according to what the deluders teach, and rage and fear incline the deluded to believe, attack our lives, our properties, and our religion?
“ This situation I thought it my duty, if possible, to avert, by promoting an inquiry. By this measure the guilty, if such there are, would have been detected, and the innocent liberated from suspicion.
“ My proposal was rejected by a great majority. I defer with all due respect to their opinion, but retain my
“ My next motion was for the insertion of the following words in the Address : Trusting that your Ma
jecty will employ every means of negotiation, consistent • with the honor and safety of this country, to avert the calamities of war.'
“ My motive in this instance is too obvious to require explanation; and I think it less necessary to dwell much on this subject, because with respect to the desirableness of peace at all times, and more particularly in the present, I have reason to believe that your sentiments do not differ from mine. If we look to the country
where the cause of war was said principally to originate, the situation of the United Provinces appeared to me to furnish abundance of prudential arguments in favor of peace. If we looked to Ireland, I saw nothing there that would not discourage a wise statesman from putting the connexion between the two kingdoms to an unnecessary hazard. At home, if it be true that there are seeds of discontent, war is the hot-bed in which these seeds will soonest vegetate ; and of all wars, in this point of view, that war is most to be dreaded, in the cause of which Kings may be supposed to be more concerned than their subjects.
“I wished, therefore, most earnestly for peace ; and experience had taught me, that the voice even of a minority in the House of Commons, might not be wholly without effect, in deterring the King's Ministers from irrational projects of war. Even upon this occasion, if I had been more supported, I am persuaded our chance of preserving the blessings of peace would be better than it appears to be at present.
“ I come now to my third motion : · That an humble - address be presented to his Majesty, that his Majesty * will be graciously pleased to give directions, that a Mi