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in my opinion, in this manner: Before the art of printing was known in Europe, learning was confined to a very few; at that time the transcribers and copiers of books were a very considerable body of men, and were under particular regulations by law. When printing was discovered, these restrictions fell of course, and then every man was at liberty to communicate, at an easy expence, his labours and thoughts on every subject to the whole world. This, my Lords, was found so very convenient, that thence arose the words, The Liberty of the Press. That this is the natural original of these words, my Lords, will appear from considering the nature of our laws, with regard to defamatory libels, before printing was discovered, compared with what it is now. My Lords, before the discovery of printing, very strong statutes were made against defamation, which very statutes are still in force; and no man, my Lords, will shew me any one statute upon this head, that was iri force before the discovery of printing, which has been since repealed. From this, my Lords, I think it evident, that by the1 expression, The Liberty of the Press, can never be understood any liberty which the press acquired, and which was unknown before the discovery of printing. Tnis, I hope, your Lordihips will find a fair and a just way of reasoning, and, indeed, the only way in which we can reason on this subject. If any body, my Lords, is of opinion that authors acquired any new privileges or liberties when printing was discovered, he ought to prove, my Lords, either that the old statutes on that subject were repealed, or that new ones were made in Its favour, which, I will venture to fay, no man can do. It is true, my Lords, that in some reigns very great restraints have been laid on the press, and very great severities inflicted on authors and printers for publishing that which would now pass current. But this never proves, that the laws relating to defamation were bad ones; it only proves that they were abused by power. 1 am very sensible, my Lords, of how much use the press was at the time of the revolution; but the authors who wrote at . - that
that time on the side of Liberty, advanced nothing that was not agreeable to the Constitution; they were warranted by law for what they wrote, and they had the fense of the nation on their side. Besides, my Lords, there is 4 great difference betwixt an author's writing on a speculative subject, on which he thinks he has something to communicate that may be of service to the world, and an author's falling foul on all mankind because they are not of his way of thinking. The authors on the side of ths Revolution, my Lords, communicated their sentiments with the greatest deference to the persons and characters of their superiors, unmixed with personal calumnies, or virulent reflections. Therefore, my Lords, it is a groundless reflection and cry against the Government, when a libeller is punished, to compare the conduct of this Government to that before the Revolution, unless those gentlemen can prove, to the satisfaction of a Jury, that they write with as much caution, and with as much decency, as the writers who, in the reigns of King Charles the Second and King James the Second, wrote on the principles of Liberty.
Having said thus much, my Lords, I cannot help taking notice of another very common mistake, with regard to the freedom which some gentlemen think themselves intitled to, in censuring the conduct of their superiors. My Lords, this is a freedom unknown to our Constitution, and subversive of our statutes, because a great part of our laws are intended for the relief of any person who is injured by another. Any person, my Lords, who is injured by another, were this last the greatest subject in the kingdom, has the Courts of Justice open for his relief, and he has a Jury who will do him justice according to the nature of the case, and then the law is satisfied. No man, my Lords, is at liberty, by our laws, to carry his resentment farther; because, if he carries it farther, he carries it beyond law. From this, my Lords, it is plain, that whoever attempts to attack any man's character, by writing or publishing defamatory libels, is guilty of a trespass, and can plead no mitiga< - tion tion of his crime, either from the nature of our Constitution, or the tenor of our laws. My Lords, I am sensible this doctrine sounds odd at a time of day when the People, under the notion of liberty, are quite intoxicated with a spirit of licentiousness.'
Lord Chancellor, Feb. 5, 1739.
I think it my duty, Sir, to lay before the House a few facts, which have occurred since our last meeting, because,, iri my humble opinion, (which I shall always submit to this House) the rights of all the commons of England and the privileges of Parliament have, in my person, been highly violated; I shall at present content myself with barely stating the facts, and leave the mode of proceeding to the wisdom of the House.
On the 30th of April, In the morning, I was made a prisoner in my own house by some of the King's messengers. I demanded by what authority they had forced their way into my room, and was shewn a warrant in which no person was named in particular, but generally the authors, printers, and publishers, of a seditious and treasonable paper, entitled, The North Britain, No- 45. The meflengers insisted on my going before Lord Halifax, which I absolutely refused, because the warrant was, I thought, illegal, and did not respect me. I applied, by my friends, to the Court of Common Pleas, for a habeas corpus, which was granted; but as the office was not then open, it could not immediately issue. I was afterwards carried, by violence, before the Earls of Egremont and Halifax, whom I informed of the orders given by the Court of Common Pleas for the habeas corpus; and I enlarged upon this subject to Mr. Webb, the Solicitor of the Treasury. I was, however, hurried away to the Tower by another warrant, which declared me the author and publisher of a most infamous and seditious libel, entitled, The North Britain, No. 45. The word treasonable was dropt, yet I was detained a dose prisoner, and no 3 person person was suffered to come near me for almost -three days3- although my council and several of my friends demanded admittance, in order to concert the means of recovering roy liberty. My house was plundered, my bureaus broke open, by order of two of your members, Mr. Wood and Mr. Webb,- and all my papers carried away. After six days imprisonment I was discharged, by the unanimous judgement of the Court of Common Pleas, That the privilege of this House extended to my case. Notwithstanding this solemn decision of one of the Courts of Justice, a few days after I was served with a subpœna upon an information exhibited against me-in the King's Bench. I lost no time in consulting the best books, as well as the greatest living authorities; and from the truest judgement I could form, I thought that the serving me with a subpœna was another violation of the privilege of Parliament, which I will neither desert nor betray, and therefore I have not yet entered an appearance.
I now stand in the judgement of the House, submitting^ with the utmost deference, the whole case to their justice and wisdom; and beg leave to add, that if, after this important business has in its full extent been maturely weighed, you shall be of opinion that I am entitled to privilege, I shall then be> not only ready, but eagerly desirous to wave that privilege, and' to put myself upon a jury of my countryman.
:: Mrs fVtlktt, Nov. 15, 1763.
I have endeavoured to form my judgement with regard to the motion for expelling an honourable member (Mr. Wilkes), which was not unexpected, upon the fullest and most impartial consideration; and having done so, I do not think myself obliged to make the least apology whatsoever, for the opinion which I shall deliver tipon this subject.
I should, indeed, have wished that I could with propriety, have declined delivering my sentiments concerning it, because I am thoroughly sensible, that whatever my opinion shall be, it will be stable to great misconstructions and misrepresentations, -vol: It N both both within these walls and without doors. If I give my vot« ibr the motion as it was made to you, it will be said that I do it from a cruel, unrelenting disposition, to gratify a private and personal resentment for the abuse Mr. Wilkes has so liberally thrown upon me, and for that purpose, under the mask of zeal for the cause of God and the King, to persevere in loading an wnhappy man, who, it has been said in" this House, has been already too much oppressed by my means, or at least with my concurrence j or it would, perhaps, be attributed, especially after the temperate conduct which I have endeavoured to hold during this session^ to an abject flattery to power, with the mean paltry view of obtaining Court favour. On the ether hand, if I give my vote against the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes, I shall be charged with levity and inconsistency, with changing my opinions as it may best suit my situation, either in or out of office, with adopting new principles from new habitudes and connections, and with a factious design of courting popularity and distressing all legal government, by supporting and protecting a man* whose behaviour I had so repeatedly and so heavily censured. If I know my own failings, revenge and cruelty are among the vices to which I am least inclined; and if I may trust to the reproaches thrown out against me by my enemies, I have been often accused of obstinacy and inflexibility of temper, but seldom or never, I think, with being too much disposed to alter my opinion according to the will of others, or to fail along the tide of popular prejudice. I should flatter myself therefore, that the charge of sacrificing principles to Court favour or popular applause could hot with justice be applied to me; notwithstanding Which I will again fully own, that I should have Wished, for many reasons, not to have been under the necessity of deciding upon this question, either one way or the other; but as it has been proposed to you, I think it would be a base and unworthy conduct meanly to hide my head, of to run away from the difficulty. Oft the contrary, it is the duty of every honest man, if he is convinced that th»