« ZurückWeiter »
beneficial laws which it is his pride and his duty to administer; at that constitution which makes us what we are, a great, free, and, I trust, with a few exceptions only, a happy and united people. Gentlemen, a conspiracy formed for these purposes, and to be effected eventually by means of arms; a conspiracy which had either for its immediate aim or probable consequence, the introduction into this country, upon the model of France, of all the miseries that disgrace and desolate that unhappy land, is the crime for which the defendants stand arraigned before you this day; and it is for
is for you to say, in the first instance, and for my lord hereafter, what shall be the result and effect in respect to persons, against whom a conspiracy of such enormous magnitude and mischief shall be substantiated in evidence.
Gentlemen, whatever subjects of political difference may subsist amongst us, I trust we are in general agreed in venerating the great principles of our constitution, and in wishing to sustain and render them permanent. Whatever toleration and indulgence we may be willing to allow to differences in matters of less importance, upon some subjects we can allow none; to the friends of France, leagued in unity of counsel, inclination, and interests with France, against the arms and interests of our country however tolerant in other respects, we can afford no grains of allowance, no sentiments of indulgence, or toleration whatsoever; to do so, at a time when those arms and counsels are directed against our political and civil, against not our national only, but natural existence (and at such a period you will find that the very conspiracy now under consideration was formed), would be equally inconsistent with every rule of law and every principle of self-preservation : it would be at once to authorize every description of mischievous persons to carry their destructive principles into immediate and fatal effect; in other words, it would be to sign the doom and downfall of that constitution which protects us all.
I am sure, therefore, that for the crime, such as I have represented it to be, my learned friend will not, in the exercise of his own good sense, choose to offer any defence or apology; but he will endeavor to make the evidence I shall lay before you appear in another point of view: he will endeavor to conceal and soften much of that malignity which I impute, and I think justly, to the intentions and actings of these defendants.
It was about the close of the year 1792, that the French nation thought fit to hold out to all the nations on the globe, or rather, I should say, to the discontented subjects of all those nations, an encouragement to confederate and combine together, for the purpose of subverting all regular established authority amongst them, by a decree of the 19th of November, 1792, which I consider as the immediate source and origin of this and other mischievous societies. That nation, in convention, pledged to the discontented inhabitants of other countries, its protection and assistance, in case they should be disposed to innovate and change the form of government under which they had hitherto lived. Under the influence of this fostering encouragement, and meaning, I suppose, to avail themselves of the protection and assistance thus held out to them, this and other dangerous societies sprang up and spread themselves within the bosom of this realm.
Gentlemen, it was about the period I mentioned, or shortly after, I mean in the month of December, which followed close upon the promulgation of this detestable decree, that the society on which I am about to comment, ten members of which are now presented in trial before you, was formed.* The vigilance of those to whom the administration of justice and the immediate care of the police of the country is primarily entrusted, had already prevented or dispersed every numerous assembly of persons which resorted to public-houses for such purposes; it therefore became necessary for persons thus disposed, to assemble themselves, if at all, within the walls of some private mansion. The president and head of this society, Mr. Thomas Walker, raised to that bad eminence by a species of merit which will not meet with much favor or encouragement here, opened his doors to receive a society of this sort at Manchester, miscalled the Reformation Society; the name may, in some senses, indeed, import and be understood to mean a society formed for the purpose of beneficial reform; but what the real purposes of this society were, you will presently learn, from their declared sentiments and criminal actings. He opened his doors, then, to receive this society; they assembled, night after night, in numbers, to an amount which
* The Manchester Constitutional Society was instituted in October, 1790; the Reformation Society, in March, 1792: the Patriotic Society, in April, 1792.
will hear from the witnesses ; sometimes, I believe, the extended number of such assemblies amounting to more than a hundred persons. There were three considerable rooms allotted for their reception. In the lower part of the house, where they were first admitted, they sat upon business of less moment, and requiring the presence of smaller numbers; in the upper part, they assembled in greater multitudes, and read, as in a school, and as it were to fashion and perfect themselves in everything that is seditious and mischievous, those writings which have been already reprobated by other juries, sitting in this and other places, by the courts of law, and in effect, by the united voice of both Houses of Parliament. They read, amongst other
works, particularly the works of an author whose name is in the mouth of everybody in this country; I mean the works of Thomas Paine; an author, who, in the gloom of a French prison, is now contemplating the full effects, and experiencing all the miseries of that disorganizing system of which he is, in some respect, the parent, certainly, the great advocate and promoter.
The works of this author, and many other works of a similar tendency, were read aloud by a person of the name of Jackson, who exercised upon those occasions the mischievous function of reader to this society. Others of the defendants had different functions assigned to them ; some busied in training them to the use of arms, for the purpose, avowedly, in case there should be either a landing of the French, with whom we were then, I think, actually at war or about to be immediately at war; or in case there should take place a revolt in the kingdoms of Ireland or Scotland, to minister to their assistance, either to such invasion or to such revolt. That they met for such purposes is not only clear from the writings that were read aloud to them, and the conversations that were held, but by the purposes which were expressly declared and avowed by those who may be considered as the mouth-pieces and organs of the society upon these occasions.
The first time, I think, that the witness Dunn,