Debate

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HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Tuesday, November 7, 1775.

Mr˙ Temple Luttrell rose and said: Sir, at this time, in the heat of a most unnatural civil war, I hold it incumbent upon every member of Parliament, inconsiderable as he may be in his private character, not only to speak out with firmness and decision, but to exert his utmost endeavour to restore peace and commercial prosperity to the mother country and her Colonies. The wisest writers on politicks lay clown for a rule, that those Governments are the most perfect which are oftenest brought back to their first principles. Now, sir, the history and perfection of the Government of the British empire will elucidate the truth of such maxim; for there is not any other country on the face of the globe, in which the Government has so often been brought back to its first principle; and that not by Kings with their Parliaments, but by extra formal assemblies of the people, in a Convention or Congress, which conveyed a purer and more positive sense of the community at large, than the estates of the land, assembled according to ordinary forms, could possibly do; and, sir, in every contest, during the last eight hundred years, between the people and their trustees for executive power, the former have come off with victory; fully establishing this plain proposition, that all partial institutions of policy must, when the national welfare is in question, be lost in the more extensive laws of reason and of nature; with whatever levity or sallies of wit such plea may lately have been treated by some gentlemen within these walls. The happiness of mankind first dictated the necessity and ends of Government, as the intermediate power between the individual and the people. All Government was created by the people; who, by their original compact, reserved to themselves a paramount right, to which they might revert in cases of publick danger, to supply essential defects, to reform abuses, and to take the most effectual measures for the lasting peace and safeguard of society. The subjects of the British empire, in an especial manner, claim liberty and property, according to their ancient laws and customs, not as a charter, gift, or indulgence, but as an inherent right, never to be alienated, and at no time transferred to their Monarch or proxy in Parliament.

I shall not trouble the House with a research into the nature and efficacy of the British Constitution; but there are, some facts requisite to sustain the arguments in favour of the motion I am going to make, which I must beg leave to call up to your recollection. The popular form of Government of the Saxons, it is well known, was, in very remote times, transplanted into this Island from Germany; their National Conventions were continual, and according to the lunar periods. After the accession of Alfred the Great, they were regulated by the festivals of the Christian calendar. The lower we descend in history, the less regular we find these assemblies. Property increased. The body of freemen became more diffuse and numerous. What was every man' s business seemed of trifling interest to the individual, and many concurring causes rendered their meetings little frequented, till at length they seldom concerned themselves with this duty, unless some edict or precept, issued by the immediate executive branch of Government, should demand their judgment and suffrages, to provide for the support of the State. But, sir, the policy of Courts gradually encroached, and at length brought the modelling of these assemblies to depend, in fact, upon the Royal will and pleasure; hence arose corruptions and intolerable grievances to the people; but whenever the disease reached its full paroxism, they wisely esteemed the publick good as the supreme object of all civilized Governments; and when sober counsels, reiterated admonitions, and processes of subordinate judicature had failed, they, by virtue of that original

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power, which I insist had at no time departed from them, did appeal to the transcendant, primeval law of conscience and common sense; and when the acts of Ministers, begun in oppression, led on to a general calamity, they considered disobedience to be the duty of every good citizen, and cheerfully bore the burden and sufferings of a civil war, rather than become slaves themselves, and entail beggary and bondage on their posterity.

I shall now illustrate this doctrine, which I take to be the fundamental basis of our genuine Whig doctrine, by some striking passages selected from your annals; first observing, that of thirty-three Sovereigns of England since William the Conqueror, thirteen only have ascended the throne by divine hereditary right; the rest owe their royalty to the zeal and vigour of the people in the maintenance of constitutional freedom. The will of the people of England, superseding an hereditary claim to succession, at the commencement of the twelfth century, placed Henry I on the throne of this kingdom, with condition that he would abrogate the vigorous laws made since the Norman invasion, restore the Government as in the days of Edward the Confessor, and abolish all unjust and arbitrary taxes. King Stephen obtained the Crown, and Henry II kept it, on the same express terms; yet, sir, in the days of King John it was judged expedient no longer to trust to mere oral declarations, which State chicane and sophistry had of late years occasionally explained away, but to compel that Prince solemnly to register an affirmance of the ancient rights of the people in a formal charter; and this necessary work was accomplished by the Congress at Runemede, in the year 1215: an assembly which ought never to be spoken of by the representatives of the Commons of England but with profound veneration.

An honourable and learned member over the way mentioned, a few evenings ago, the introduction of foreign troops into this Island in the reign of Henry III, as a precedent to warrant the present stretch of regal prerogative in the case of the Hanoverian mercenaries. As that member is not now in the House, I shall be more concise in treating of the events he alluded to, than I otherwise intended. Sir, in the reign of Henry III, about the year 1233, the Barons, Clergy, and Freeholders, refused two distinct summonses to Parliament; and understanding that the King, as Earl of Poictou, had landed some of his Continental troops in the western ports of England, with a design to strengthen a most odious and arbitrary set of Ministers, they assembled in a Convention or Congress, from whence they despatched Deputies to King Henry, declaring that if he did not immediately send back those Poictouvians, and remove from his person and counsels evil advisers, they would place on the throne a Prince who should better observe the laws of the land. Sir, the King not only hearkened to that Congress, but shortly after complied with every article of their demands, and publickly notified his reformation. Now, sir, what are we to call that assembly which dethroned Edward II, when the Archbishop of Canterbury preached a sermon on this text: "The voice of the people is the voice of God;" and when a learned Judge, in the character of Procurator for the mass of the freemen, surrendered the homage and fealty of the people of England, alleging that the original compact, through which they were bound to allegiance, was dissolved, by the use and aggrandizement of ill counsellors, by the administration of Government which agreed not with the ancient laws of the land, and by a total disregard to the advice and supplications of his Majesty' s faithful but afflicted subjects? Richard II, like the unhappy Edward, fell a victim to despotick obstinacy and favoritism; and to this King, in the same manner, was surrendered by Commissioners (or Proctors) the allegiance of his subjects, and a Prince of the House of Lancaster (founder of our present most gracious Sovereign' s royal line) was invited over from banishment, and elected by the people to the throne. But, sir, before I dismiss this reign, it may be proper to observe that Richard entirely subverted the Constitution of the upper House of Parliament, for he made it an appendage to the Crown, introducing Peers by creation, in prejudice to the territorial Baronies; and with respect to the other House, he sent orders to the Sheriffs of the several Counties throughout England, to return only such representatives to Parliament as should on every occasion implicitly obey the Royal mandate. Nay, sir, both Houses conjointly

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went at last so far as to commit their whole Parliamentary power into the hands of a cabinet junto of Ministers, having, however, first obtained the Pope' s leave for so doing. I wish gentlemen who contend for supreme sovereignty in the Crown and Parliament, denying any rights of the people in pre-eminence to their joint authority, would apply such argument to the state of King, Lords, and Commons, at that era. I shall next proceed to the General Convention or Congress, which in 1461 enthroned the Earl of March in Westminster-Hall, by the name of Edward IV, the primate of all England collecting the suffrages of the people; and at that period even the Lancastrian historians date the commencement of his reign.

But to come to modem occurrencies. In 1659 a Convention or Congress restored legal Monarchy in the person of King Charles II˙ who was then no farther distant from this Island than the town of Breda, and being pressed by many of the Royal partisans to issue his writs for a lawful Parliament, he made answer, that he would rather be indebted for his restoration to the uninfluenced sense of the people of England, taken in a free assembly.

On the 26th of December, 1688, was held a Convention or Congress at St˙ James' s, where the Prince of Orange presided; and there were present most of the surviving members who had served in any one of the Parliaments of King Charles II, the Lord Mayor of London, the Aldermen, and about fifty of the Common Council, &c˙; and on the 22d of January following, by virtue of notices issued on the aforesaid 26th of December at St˙ James' s, the memorable Convention-Parliament assembled in this House, and perfected the glorious work of the Revolution.

I mean, sir, from these examples and arguments, to deduce for an incontrovertible truth, that all the subjects of the British empire have a right to be governed according to the spirit of our ancient Constitution, by which no freeman could be taxed without his consent, either in person or by his substitute; and notwithstanding the infringement of this right under some of our Norman Kings and their successors, yet we find William the Conqueror himself confirming it, in his code of laws, the year before his decease; and the same explicit declaration in its favour from our English Justinian, King Edward I, in the Charter of the 25th and Statutes of the 34th of his reign, admitted to be among the earliest authentick records of Parliament extant, according to the present mode of summons.

I have, I think, shown that our Kings in former days have not scrupled to treat with a Congress; that many of the best of them owe their Crowns to such national meetings; and that this nation has, on the one hand, been saved from despotism, and on the other, from anarchy, by a Convention or Congress; which surely possesses some advantages over a Parliament; for being free from Ministerial management — having neither placemen, pensioners, nor dependant retainers on their list — they are more likely to hear the sincere dictates of conscience, and the unpolluted sense of those they represent. But, sir, however inadmissible the voice of a Congress might be deemed as acts of legislation, yet I conceive that their plea in the character of advocates for the constituent body by whom they are commissioned, ought, in justice as well as sotted policy, to be listened to. A punctilious delicacy now in fashion, which we style the dignity of the Crown and Parliament, will, if madly persisted in, cost at least half the blood and substance of Great Britain. The most haughty and powerful monarch of his time, Lewis XIV, when there was a formidable commotion in the Cevennes, condescended to depute two Marshals of France to enter into a treaty with the malcontents: peace was accordingly made, and the terms of it were afterwards faithfully fulfilled.

Look, sir, into the history of the proudest as well as most renowned people that ever existed, the Romans; observe the conclusion of their social war, and you will see they were not above negotiating a peace with those very insurgents whom they had before, individually by name, proscribed as rebels. Rome found herself at that day reduced to the same critical predicament which, I apprehend, we now stand in; there was no other possible means of restoring concord, or saving the Commonwealth from ruin. But, sir, above all, I would wish the House to give, on this occasion, due weight to a conclusive remark of the excellent author of the Commentaries on the laws of England, where

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he is descanting on the Revolution of 1688, which placed the sceptre in the hands of King William, and eventually brought in the illustrious House of Hanover to be guardians of the Protestant religion, and asserters of the ancient constitutional rights of all the subjects throughout the British Monarchy: "No practical systems of law (says he) are so perfect as to point out beforehand those eccentrick remedies which national emergency will dictate and will justify."

I now, sir, beg leave to offer to the House the following motion:

"That a Committee be appointed to draw up an Address to his Majesty, humbly requesting that he will authorize the Commissioners nominated to act in America, (for the gracious purposes expressed in his Majesty' s speech from the throne,) to receive proposals for reconciliation from any General Convention, Congress, or other collective body, that shall be found most perfectly to convey the sentiments of one or more of the several Continental Colonies, suspending all inquiry into the legal or illegal forms under which such Colony or Colonies may be disposed to treat; as the most effectual means to prevent the effusion of blood, and to reconcile the honour and permanent interest of Great Britain with the requisitions of his Majesty' s American subjects."

Colonel Charles Wolseley seconded the motion. He said, he had served same years on the coast of America, and had at this time the best intelligence possible from that part of the world, and was sure a peace could never be effected but through the means of a General Congress.

Mr˙ Rice said, that not having been in the House while, the honourable gentleman spoke in support of his motion, he should not reply to his speech; but only observe, that no man in the House could be more desirous of peace with America than himself; but he would not treat with the Congress, because it would be admitting that to be a legal assembly, which must, of course, determine the question at once in favour of America. If that meeting was legal, all our conduct was injustice.

Mr˙ J˙ Johnstone was for the motion, as the only means of treating with America.

Sir George Yonge was also for the motion.

Sir George Suttie called upon Ministers to inform the House whether they had any plan, and what they intended to do.

No answer was given, and the motion passed in the negative.