管窥晚清精英的觉醒与转型

Such, then, was the state of affairs at the meeting of Parliament in November, 1768. These events in America claimed immediate attention. The petition of the Convention of Massachusetts, on its arrival, was rejected indignantly. The Opposition called for the production of the correspondence with the civil and military authorities there on the subject, but this demand was negatived. In January, 1769, the House of Lords took up the subject in a lofty tone. They complained of the seditious and treasonable proceedings of the people of Boston and of Massachusetts generally; and the Duke of Bedford, affirming that it was clear that no such acts could be punished by the magistrates or tribunals of the colony, moved an address to the king recommending that the criminals guilty of the late outrages should be brought to England and tried there, according to an Act of the 35th of Henry VIII. On the 26th of January it was introduced to the Commons. There it excited a very spirited opposition. Pownall, who had himself been governor of Massachusetts, and knew the Americans well,[195] accused the Lords of gross ignorance of the charters, usages, and character of the Americans; and Governor Johnstone as strongly condemned the motion, which was carried by one hundred and fifty-five to eighty-nine. On the 14th of March a petition from New York, denying their right to tax America in any way, was rejected, on the motion of Lord North; and, still later in the session, Governor Pownall moved that the revenue acts affecting America should be repealed forthwith. By this time everybody seemed to have become convinced of the folly of the attempt; but Ministers had not the magnanimity to act at once on the certainty that stared them in the face. Parliament was prorogued on the 9th of May, and did not meet again till the following January, as if there were nothing of moment demanding its attention.

On the 20th of May Fox moved for a Grand Committee on courts of justice, to inquire into some late decisions of the courts in cases of libel. Thomas Erskine, the eloquent advocate, had lately, in the case of the Dean of St. Asaph, delivered a most brilliant and effective speech on the right of juries to decide both on fact and on law in such cases, the duty of the judge being only to explain the law. Fox adopted this doctrine of Erskine, and framed his speech in the most glowing terms. He complained, however, that such was not the practice of the courts, and he particularly animadverted on the custom and the doctrine of Lord Mansfield on this subject. He observed that in murder, in felony, in high treason, and in every other criminal indictment, it was the admitted province of the jury to decide both on law and fact. The practice in the case of libel was an anomaly, and clearly ought not to be so. He said that the doctrine which he recommended was no innovation; it had been asserted by John Lilburne, who, when prosecuted for a libel under the Commonwealth, declared that the jury were the real judges, and the judges themselves mere cyphers, so far as the verdict was concerned; and Lilburne had been acquitted, in spite of the judge and of the influence of Cromwell. He reviewed the doctrines of the Stuarts regarding libel, and observed that these could not be wrong then and right now. He contended that the late practice had been a serious inroad on the liberty of the press, and noted the case of the printer of the Morning Herald, who had been tried for merely commenting strongly on the sending of an armament to Nootka Sound, and on the conduct of Parliament in granting supplies for this purpose. He had been condemned to a year's imprisonment and to stand in the pillory. Pitt observed that he had always, since he had had a place in the Ministry, condemned the use of the pillory, and that there could be no difficulty in remitting that part of the sentence in this particular case. He supported Fox's view of the law, and recommended him to bring in two short Bills, instead of going into committee on the subject. Fox followed this advice, and brought in two Billsone to remove doubts respecting the rights and functions of juries in criminal cases; and the other to amend the Act of the 9th of Queen Anne for rendering the proceedings upon writs of Mandamus and informations in the nature of a Quo Warranto more speedy and effectual. The first Bill passed the Commons on the 2nd of June, but was thrown out in the Lords, through the influence of Chancellor Thurlow, who had never forgiven Pitt his contempt of his conduct on the Regency question during the king's malady. This defeated the object of Fox during this Session, but it was carried in the next, and Lord Thurlow's opposition lost him his position. The Great Seal was put into commission.

Before Walpole thus threw off the mask of moderationindeed, on the very day of his resignationhe introduced a well-matured scheme for the reduction of the National Debt, which was, in fact, the earliest germ of the National Sinking Fund. Though the ordinary rate of interest had been reduced, by the statute of the 12th of Queen Anne, to five per cent., the interest on the funded debt remained upwards of seven. The Long and Short Annuities were unredeemable, and could not be touched without the consent of the proprietors; but Walpole proposed to borrow six hundred thousand pounds at only four per cent., and to apply all savings to the discharge of the debts contracted before December, 1716. He proposed, also, to make some arrangement with the Bank and the South Sea Company, by which the Bank should lend two millions and a half, and the Company two millions, at five per cent., to pay off such holders of redeemable debts as should refuse to accept an equal reduction.

In the same field was to be found the poet Ebenezer Elliott, the "Corn Law Rhymer." By his addresses to his fellow-townsmen of Sheffield, his remonstrances with the infatuated followers of O'Connor, who fancied that their own cause was opposed to that of the Manchester League, and by his powerful "Corn Law Rhymes," Elliott rendered services to the movement of the highest value. A good specimen of Elliott's powers of versification is afforded by the following song: Poor Law Amendment Act { 585 unions 13,964