« AnteriorContinuar »
destroying the independence of parliament, and detaching it's interests from that of the people, had rendered it a mere passive instrument in the hand of the minister. If the spirit which was manifested on this occasion, and which contributed to that celebrated decision of the house, that the power of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished, had received that encouragement from above, to which it's laudable and patriotic tendency entitled it, it might ultimately have led to such a reformation of public affairs, as every friend to the future happiness and prosperity of his country would have rejoiced in ; but it has been the misfortune of the present reign, to have been uniformly marked by an alienation from those enlarged and liberal principles, which should characterize the administration of a free country: thus, while it met with every discouragement from government, there was not sufficient zeal and unanimity in the people, to give that necessary degree of confidence and au.
thority to their leaders, to enable them to contend with so formidable an opposition, backed as it was by those seducing applications to the personal interests, the ambition, and the avarice of individuals. Year after year marked some flagrant dereliction of principle on the part of their leaders, till at length the all-corrupting influence of the court had so thinned the ranks of the reformers, that the virtuous few who remained could only lament the failure of their well-meant efforts, and the prospect of those evils, which such selfish and illiberal principles of government necessarily produce,
Of the various meetings which were summoned throughout the kingdom for the furtherance of this object, there were few so important either in respect of the number or the rank of the individuals who attended, as that which assembled at Mansfield on the 28th of October 1782.
On being requested by several who attended the meeting, to deliver his sentiments
on the occasion, Mr. Walker rose and spoke to the following effect :
He wished rather to obviate objections, than to add any thing to the unanswerable arguments, by which the propriety and utility of the petition had been enforced. Many specious objections had been and would be urged, to divert the minds of the people from the salutary object of their petition, that it was a novelty, a moulding the constitution anew; that, if wise and right in itself, it did not meet the present temper of the kingdom, and being merely the speculation of a few, would only divide the nation in a moment which of all others asked the united aid of every heart and hand; and that it would unnerve the executive power, by weakening the dependence of administration upon the commons, from whom the supplies of government were to be received. To each of these objections he proposed to answer in their order:
The first, viz. that the object of the people's prayer was an absolute innovation,
appeared to be a formidable objection; but he trusted that a little attention to the origin and progress of our singular constitution would show the objection to be wholly unfounded, that the evil complained of in the petition was itself the thing abhorrent and strange to the ideas of Englishmen, and that the redress petitioned for was simply a renovation. If this could be clearly shown, it could not fail to reconcile the minds of every one as to their old habitude and right. But as this was a matter of historic evidence, he presumed that he should not affront his audience in giving them a brief abstract of the rise, progress, and discriminating spirit of the English constitution, as no unnecessary information to many, whose situation in life might render so useful a knowledge inaccessible to them. He asserted, that the actuating principle and virtue of the English constitution were derived from, and founded upon, the priınæval rights of human nature, upon the sense, conviction, and invariable exercise of these i 4
rights with our early ancestors, to which their being secreted for ages from the knowledge of the dangerous refinements of more polished European națions had principally contributed
That passing from the east along the tract of northern Europe, and uncontaminated with the servile maxims of aristocratic and monarchical government, to which the southern regions had long been habituated, they had descended into the rich provinces of the Roman empire, and imported with them, wherever they established themselves, the liberal spirit by which society had till that moment been conducted among them, This spirit consisted in the equality of all, equality of rights, and that in this view, every member of community stood upon the same ground. Whatever distinctions particular exigencies might require, they were distinctions of utility, artificial arrangements for a common good, often abolished when the exigence ceased, but never subversive of the primary, the fundamental right