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unlawful assemblies; this I deny to be law. I call upon the law-officers of the crown to prove it. I call on the lawyers to say, whether the mere appointment of delegates or representatives, for the purpose of petitioning the King or Parliament, is alone sufficient to make an unlawful assembly. I call for their authorities; where are their statutes, their adjudications, their opinions? There are none; they know there are none. The law never said that the mere appointment of a representative for a legal purpose, was an illegal act, or that the preparing a petition to the King or Parliament for the redress of a grievance, was an illegal purpose. I will examine their authorities. “ An unlawful assembly,” says Lord Coke, " is where three or more assemble in a body to commit a riot, and do not do it.” “ An unlawful assembly," says Blackstone, “is where three or more assemble to do an unlawful act, or to pull down inclosures, and part without doing it.” “ An unlawful assembly,” says Hawkins, “is not only an assembling to do an act, which, if done; would make the assembly riot, but it is the meeting in great numbers, with such circumstances of terror as cannot but endanger the public peace, as where great numbers, complaining of a common grievance, meet armed in a warlike manner, to consider of the means of recovering their interests.”. Does a deputation, not armed in a warlike manner, nor in any manner, and appointed to do a legal act, come under all or any of these definitions? Does (I recite the substance of the bill) the appointment of any assembly to represent any description, or number of the people, for the purpose of preparing or presenting petitions relative to a public concernment, come under any one of these definitions ? No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer.
I will not only say that this preamble is not law, but that it is a bitter reflection upon the most illustrious periods in the histories of both countries — the deputation at Dungannon, which first resolved those principles of liberty which the Parliament afterwards enacted by statutes, to which Ireland owes her present political existence. If by this bill it is declared that the Dungannon meeting was an unlawful one, what might the Parliament of England say? Might not a bill pass there, reciting, that " whereas the liberties of the Irish nation are founded upon certain resolutions of a convention at Dungannon, afterwards enacted by Parliament; and whereas the Irish Parliament has since declared that convention to have been an unlawful assembly, and, of course, that its proceedings were unlawful, be it enacted, that the statute of the 6th Geo. 1. shall stand revived” ? would not the English Parliament
have fair ground for doing so, when Ireland deprecates her own title to liberty,
The preamble is farther conceived in a manner which I must always condemn.. It is a vile trick in legislation to assume principles as settled law, and enact them into force to cheat the people, by making new laws, while you seem only to affirm the old; it is a practice which evidently tends to reconcile the people to the imposition of a new constitution, while the pretence is confirming the ancient system. What will be the law if this bill passes ? In every case where the voice of the people may be hereafter necessary; in cases which may happen, (however unwillingly we may suppose it,) that voice will be checked and stifled by this bill. Should an attempt be made to garble the Parliament, to pass a perpetual mutiny bill, (a measure which you yourselves voted to be ground for popular discontent and jealousy,) or an attempt to transfer the power and the allegiance of this country by a union, and subjugate her to Great Britain; or, we may even suppose a case similar to that of James 11., however improbable, and many events which the decorum of the constitution will not suppose, and has not provided for; the cases of dereliction or treachery in any of the legislative branches; or if attempts were made to grant the supplies for lise, or to surrender the national religion without any security but the sovereign's honour, as was the case in James II.'s time: in all or any of these cases, the people have not hitherto indeed been authorized, but they have not been prohibited from exerting themselves to save their country; but by this act they will be for ever prohibited. Thus it is directly adverse to the genius of the constitution, and goes to destroy its resuscitative power, by incapacitating the people from acting in important cases by delegation; the only way, when, in such emergencies, they can act with constitutional energy.
What was the committee of commerce in this country, but such an assembly as is here pronounced illegal? What the delegates from the different counties in England, in 1780, to promote a reduction of the expenses of the state? What the conventions in England, in 1782, for the purpose of the reform of parliament? What the delegates for the procuring the repeal of the test act ? What the Presbyterian synod? What the delegates of the Quakers? What the convention in England, for the purpose of restoring Charles II.? What the convention in Ireland, for bringing about the revolution, in 1782 ? What the convention styled a northern association and general council, to direct the operation of associated bodies, united for the purpose of religion and liberty? But I cannot omit
one convention to which the present family owes its crown, and which, if this bill is law, was an act of rebellion : I mean that glorious and immortal assembly purporting to represent the people of England, that placed the crown on the head of William and Mary. This assembly comes under every clause in this bill, descriptive of illegal assembly. Had such a bill as this been the law of England, and been executed, Lord Somers and the leaders in the revolution must have been apprehended. I have read much of the proceedings of the Catholics at the time of the revolution, but I never before read their justification in the shape of an act of Parliament; for if this declaratory bill be law, then the convention of 1688 was against law, and all its proceedings of course,and, amongst others, the settlement of the crown, illegal, and the resistance of the Catholics to that settlement warrantable by law. Who would have thought that the Catholics would have found, in the defamer of their loyalty, an apologist for their rebellion ? Who would have thought to have found in a bill professing to be a strong measure in favour of power, the seed of a principle which impeaches the succession of the Crown, in the present illustrious family; but so interwoven, fortunately, is the title of the King with the liberties of the people, that no man can be the enemy of the one without at the same time suggesting a question against the other. Such melancholy and gross ignorance does this act betray of the history of both countries, and such a total and shocking disregard to every trace of sound constitutional principle, without which no man can be a safe lawyer, or a good citizen. Blackstone speaks of this law of redress; the law of redress ascertained as at the revolution, and the law of redress unascertained, as in those cases where the governing powers betray their trust, and conspire against the common weal, such as the modesty of the law will not suppose; and therefore against which it does not provide a remedy; but leaves the redress open to the exigency; and it is this which Lord Bolinbroke means, when he says the constitution of Great Britairr cannot be destroyed, even by Parliament. Kings, like James II., may abdicate; Parliaments, like his Parliament, may betray their trust; but the resources of this constitution are such, that the people cannot be enslaved, until they themselves are universally corrupt. How then are they to redress themselves when they are betrayed by Parliament? how, in such a case - how? but by resorting to what this bill makes a misdemeanor, the appointment or delegation of some body or bodies, who may confer and communicate. This bill, I therefore submit, is not only, as a declaration of law, false and ignorant, but highly criminal and mischievous, as a
provision against those popular resources which Ireland found necessary once, and England found necessary also, and without which neither had been free, -resources which should neither be prohibited nor encouraged.
Let me suppose that the persons who gave their early and almost infant voice against a motion to declare the rights of the Irish Parliament, had succeeded so far as to prevent the House in the end from adopting that measure ; let me suppose that the same persons who proposed to give back the substance of those rights, on the question of the memorable propositions, attended as that question was with a senseless petulance of speech, against the character as well as the pretensions of Ireland ; let me suppose that they; at that time, had prevailed ; let me suppose that those who denied the substance of that declaration of right on the question of the regency, and maintained that a British convention could make a law for the people of Ireland, and that this country was governed by the great seal of England ; let me suppose that they had been able, at that time, to impose their empty quibble as law, and their shameless assertion as constitution; let me suppose that he who had declared in this House, that the Irish parliament had been once bought for half a million, and that it might be made necessary to buy it again for the same, or a greater sum ; let me suppose that he had been able to establish the profligacy of this principle, the violence of such measures, or the corruption of such practices, as permanent maxims of government; let me suppose, that those who, by the precipitation of their temper inflamed, misled, and finally exposed the Protestant interest, as they have since endeavoured to alienate the Catholic interest by the petulance of their language; let me suppose that they had prevailed in any, and still more in all their desperate enterprises against their country; in such a case, might not a convention have been necessary ? It is true, the good sense of some of His Majesty's ministers has checked the arbitrary genius that inspired such sentiments, governed his temper, and renounced his bigotry, and, by taking reconciling steps, has rendered a convention at present unnecessary, improper, and improbable. But in a country where such practices have been resorted to, and such avowal of such profligacy publicly made, shall we say that in no time to come there shall ever be a convention ? Such a practice, and such an unabashed avowal of such a practice, is the subversion of all government, of English government in Ireland, or of any government, because it is the subversion of those principles moral and religious, without which there can be no governThe minister, therefore, who proclaimed that it was
the custom of the British government to buy the Irish Parliament with half millions, proclaimed by necessary deduction the necessity of an Irish convention. Happily, I say, that principle is changed, and a convention unnecessary and unwarranted; but in a country where such a thing could even have been publicly advanced by administration, will you pass an act against any convention at any time to come, or any representation of any description of the people for any specific public purpose ?
Sir, this bill I pronounce to be an anti-whig and anti-constitutional measure, and the boldest step that ever yet was made to introduce a military government. Sir, if this bill had been the law of the land, four great events could never have taken place; the independency of the Irish Parliament; the emancipation of the Irish Catholics; the revolution in Great Britain; and the great event that flowed from it, the succession of the Hanoverian family. The enacting part is a bill of popular incapacities instead of a constitution of popular resources; the enacting part is a proviso against future redress in cases of emergency, as the declaratory part is a declaration against the legality of past redress.
In this latter light it must be considered as a libel on the revolution; on your own meeting at Dungannon; on all the proceedings of your volunteers, and on the Catholic convention.
Do gentlemen remember the volunteers; they always acted by deputation; they had deputed some of their body even to the throne, and on no less a matter of public concernment, than the independence of the country. And how were they received? Were they sent to prison as emissaries of an unlawful assembly? No; they were most graciously received by the King, and the whole administration of England. Besides this, thanks to these very men are on the journals of the House. Would this House have thanked men, who at that moment constituted an unlawful assembly ? Many of the members of this House have been deputies from these volunteers. If they vote for this bill, they must declare themselves to have been members of an illegal and indictable assembly. Where is the use of stigmatizing the volunteers? Never was there an armed body, that did so much good with so little mischief. They have strong claims on the gratitude and veneration of their countrymen. If, in the cause of liberty, they sometimes went too far; if the ardour of youth could not at all times command the precaution of old age, draw a veil over the infirmity, remember the essential service; respect the soldier's memory, and do not now, when he is dead, assemble round his grave with the