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It is a fundamental maxim, that when any law is proposed, which indicates more good than evil to a State, such law ought to be received. The unconstitutional effects, the oppression, and inefficacy of the present mode of levying men for the navy by an impress, are but too sensibly felt by the whole nation. A valuable sea officer (Governor Johnstone), who is a distinguished ornament to this Legislature, and whose private and public character do real honour to human nature, having formerly treated of the practice of impressing, says, “ It difgraces Government, shocks the spirit of our Conftitution, and violates the laws of humanity; therefore every plan to obviate the evil has a claim to a political hearing and candid discussion." That worthy member's remarks must, I am sure, strike every body, who duly considers them as just and forcible. Is it not an abominable fight, in a free country like ours, to have a number of sailors, with fire arms and cutlasses, frequently in the dead of night, sometimes intoxicated with liquor, making their way into the habitation of peaceable people, dragging a sober, unoffending fubject from his home, and settled means of livelihood, to convey him om board an impress tender, from thence to a guard ship, imprisoned amidst the moral and physical contagion of a miscellaneous, kidnapped crew, to be driven across the seas, no mortal can tell him where, nor for how long a time; and what is still worse, seized by surprise, not suffered to bid a kind farewel to his wife and family, nor have thought of their future subsistence, when deprived of his care; to adopt a new way of life, perhaps that to which his limbs and faculties are the worst calculated and fashioned by his Creator? And, Sir, is it not a serious matter of reproach to this wife, this liberal nation, never yet to have provided a remedy for such dreadful and extensive sufferings? What tumults, fears, and confusion, arise in every city, town, and country, within ten or twelve miles of a press-gang? And what numberless inconveniencies to all conditions of persons throughout Great Britain! In 1770 the Lord Mayor of London represented
to the Board of Admiralty, that the city of London was so in-
within this very metropolis of your empire, on the subject of impressing men for the navy, and the lawsuits depending thereon in the Courts of Westminster Hall, must occasion, as well to Government as to People in general, niuch embarrassînent and apprehension. In several of the ports along the North-eaft coaft of England, you have actually subsisting a dangerous connection among large bodies of sea-faring people, occasioned by many lawless proceedings of the press-gangs; and every day's post brings some new detail of innocent lives Loft, or limbs broken in that quarter. Sir, there have been lately no less than one hundred and twenty men pressed, with: out distinction, in or about Bethnal Green and Spitalfields; of which between seventy and eighty, after suffering every hard(hip, and leaving their families distressed at home, obtained a discharge, as of no use to the service. Having already cursorily touched on some of the calamities and unconstitutional outrages affecting these manufacturers, mechanics, and husbandmen, who never exercised, nor had in contemplation, the trade of a seaman, I must take a short view of your cruelty towards mariners by profession. They are not only liable to the same inhuman violence and surprise with landsmen, but when seized on board trading vessels for the purpose of serving His Majesty, are often imposed upon by fraudulent bills, on account of wages due to them for past hire in the trader's employ. The lives of many braye officers and their followers have been facrificed, or they have come off cruelly maimed by this invidious part of their duty. A multitude of seamen have been drowned by attempting to swim ashore from their ships, or have been shot by the centinels while they endeavoured to escape under cover - of midnight darkness; being driven to phrenzy and despair, for want even of a shadow of hope, that they might one day or other be entitled to a legal discharge.
Honourable Temple Luttrell, March 11, 1777.
I am really aftonished that the learned gentleman (Mr. Wed, derburne) is not ashamed to avow the reason he has assigned, for the concealment he has used, and reducing the House to act as so many midnight conspirators, who, under the colour of devising measures for public preservation and national safety, has every appearance of plotting, in the dark at midnight, its destruction, coming like so many hired ruffians, with weapons concealed under their cloaks, to bury their poniards in its very bowels.
Such an act as that for impressing men into His Majesty's service might be very necessary, but I have many reasons to believe not to the extent moved for; but why bring it forward at this dark and filent hour? When the clock has struck twelve, and most of the members retired home to their beds? Why, in God's name, not propose it early in the day, in a full House?
The reason assigned for this assassinate mode of conducting public business is, to the last degree, unfounded and dissatisfactory, “left the public should be apprized of it.” Has not the learned gentleman already told us, that the bill is to act retrospectively? That it is to commence on that melancholy, I fear, fatal day, on which the Spanish Minister delivered the Manifesto now on your table? Has he not farther informed us, that the Ministry have not been unmindful of their duty, for that they have exceeded all their former attacks on the conftitution of their country? They have trampled on the laws, and have found an advocate to defend their conduct, in the person of the learned gentleman who has moved this extraordinary bill, in this very extraordinary manner. Is then the learned gentleman's love of his country not satisfied with the injuries inflicted on the most deserving part of the community, by robbing them of that protection which the laws have given to them, and by breaking the national faith, which is the great pledge and security to every Englishman for their dus performance? Would the learned gentleinan not let one fa
ther, one husband, one brother, or one child escape, in this general scene of oppreffion and injustice! Methinks I hear the heart-felt shrieks of the miserable wife this instant piercing my ears, and entreating, in accents of rage and despair, the midnight ruffian not to drag from her side her tender and affeca tionate husband, the father of her children, and her only support! I think I hear the aged and helpless parent in accents of sinking woe, misery, and distress, bewailing the loss of his dutiful and beloved fon! I confess I am filled with horror at the various ills and miseries this instant inflicting in every part of these kingdoms; contrary to every principle of law, justice, and humanity: but the learned gentleman has a stomach for all this, and much more; for he says, he has stood up at this midnight hour to propose a law, which, if proposed in open day, in a full house, might, perhaps, have this one consequence, that of procuring, for the persons to be affected by it, that perfonal security, by flight and concealment, which the laws of their country, and the assurance of public faith always suppofed to accompany them, have been inadequate to. .
:. Sir George Saville, June 23, 1779.
Great abilities and greater industry have been exerted in the vain endeavour of maintaining, that affociations, committees of correspondence, delegations, and petitions to this House figned with more than twenty names, are contrary to law and the conftitution. I am sorry to see talents and industry employed so idly; but,'indeed, it requires both to give any thing like a colour to such a doctrine. After what has been so ably advanced by gentlemen on the same side of the House with myself, it will not be neceffary to enter into a tedious repetir tion of the question of law. It is a clear fundamental point in the conftitution of this country, that the People have a right to petition their representatives in Parliament, and it is by no means true, that the number of names signed to any such pes tition is limited. The act which paffed in the reign of Charles . 3 .