Great Liberal Speeches: Charles James Fox Fox on the suspension of habeas corpus

I was one of the contributors to Great Liberal Speeches. Here is my introduction to the selected speech from Charles James Fox speech, followed by the speech itself.

Charles James Fox, 1749-1806, was one of the leading orators of his generation, easily able to hold his own against other such talents and opponents such as the Tory Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

He was born into the political establishment with a mother who was the great-granddaughter of Charles II and a father who had served Walpole for many years. From an early age he mixed an aptitude for hard work with bouts of dissolute behaviour and extravagant gambling.

Despite being technically under-age, he was first elected to Parliament in 1768 and initially supported many conservative, even reactionary, causes. He made his name as a Parliamentary orator in 1769 with a defence of Colonel Luttrell, Wilkes’ opponent in Middlesex.

However, he was radicalised by both the Royal Marriage Bill and the American War of Independence. On the former he first came into conflict with the monarchy, believing it wrong to legislate to restrict the right of the King’s children to marry. On the latter, his belief in Parliament’s supremacy brought him into further conflict with the King and increasingly to believe in the need for radical reform to trim monarchical power whilst strengthening and invigorating Parliament.

By the late 1770s he was persistently one of the more radical Whigs, holding beliefs a modern liberal would recognise – that power stems from the people, that government could be improved by large-scale reform and an optimistic belief in reform producing progress.

During the 1780s Fox served in government, including a spell as Foreign Secretary under Rockingham, and the notorious coalition with his former adversary but fellow opponent of the monarch, Lord North. They were though out-manoeuvred by the King and his young new Prime Minister, Pitt, who turned a minority administration into one commanding a comfortable majority.

In 1794 Pitt’s government professed itself to be seriously worried about the dangerous of revolution in Britain, encouraged by the example of the French Revolution and fanned by the spread of pro-reform societies around the country. A “secret committee” (a forerunner of modern select committees) had gathered evidence that it claimed showed a clear revolutionary danger existed.

The degree to which these fears were justified has been a continuing matter of controversy amongst historians. Pitt himself had no doubt and in April 1794 his government moved to suspend Habeas Corpus, effectively permitting imprisonment without trial.

During the debate in Parliament he claimed the societies which had spread around the country were the prelude to a “whole system of insurrection … under which the weak and ignorant, who are most susceptible of impression from such barren abstract positions, were attempted to be seduced to overturn government, law, property, security, religion, order, and every thing value in this country.”

The French Revolution had already caused deep divisions in the ranks of the Whigs with some joining Fox in varying degrees of enthusiasm for different stages of the events in France. Others though, most notably Edmund Burke, were deeply opposed to the events in France and concerned about the risk of revolution, splitting from Fox and his colleagues.

Fox’s speech was made on the third reading of the bill in the House of Commons, debated on a Saturday afternoon. William Windham, a conservative Whig who advocated strong action to contain the effects of the French revolution, had argued that universal suffrage was a cause of great evil, as demonstrated by the increasing extremism in France. The government having unsuccessfully taken moderate steps to protect against revolution, he believe more decisive action was now required. If necessary, yet further steps should also be taken in the future.

Windham and other supporters of the bill believed that revolution was a real threat, and that the plots involved calling a convention similar to that which took place in the early stages of the French Revolution.

As in many other debates, both during and after the wars with France, opponents of restrictions on civil liberties doubted the quality of the evidence pointing to revolutionary dangers and argued that infringements on civil liberties would only make matters worse.

Fox himself, as one of the leading orators of his generation, often found the phrases and formulations to eloquently make the case for civil liberties and to argue that the measures being proposed in fact threatened the British constitution despite their professed aim of protecting it.

This belief in liberty being in itself something to be valued and that encroachment on it ran grave risks of encouraging yet further, even more damaging, encroachments is a persistent feature of liberal thought. It was one of the few beliefs that kept a changing cast of opposition politicians together during this period.

Fox lost the vote at the end of this debate by 183 votes to 33. It was one of many votes he lost heavily during the wars with France as, with only rare exceptions, only a small band of supporters were prepared to attack the conduct of the war and oppose oppressive government measures. By the late 1790s he only rarely appeared in Parliament, but the death of Pitt in 1806 gave him the opportunity to return to power, again as Foreign Secretary. He died in office later than year.

Further reading

Numerous biographers have been attracted to Fox by both his political career and his colourful life. Some of the most useful are D. Powell, Charles James Fox, man of the people, S. Ayling, Fox and L.G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox. A rather more colourful approach is taken in I.M. Davies, The harlot and the statesman, the story of Elizabeth Armistead and Charles James Fox. D. Schweitzer, Charles James Fox, a bibliography is a useful source for further works.

If the love of liberty was not to be maintained in England: Charles James Fox On The Suspension Of The Habeas Corpus Act

House of Commons May 17, 1794.

Mr. Fox rose and said that he should not have troubled the House with any further observations on the subject of the present bill, after having given his opinion so fully upon it the night before, but for the very extraordinary topics which had been introduced by his right honourable friend (Mr. Windham).

The euthanasia of the British constitution

If he had expressed himself warmly on the subject of that bill, he begged leave to say, after the most mature reflection, that he did not repent of such warmth. He desired to be considered as repeating and confirming every assertion. It was a bill characteristic of the worst times, and which, he feared, predicted much calamity to the country. We were hurrying into that most dangerous and alarming predicament which would produce either the horrors of anarchy and confusion on the one side, or that despotism of monarchy which Mr. Hume called “the euthanasia of the British constitution” on the other; in either of which cases he saw the complete extinction of liberty; and he dreaded to think what must be the shocking alternative which he, and others who loved the true principles of the constitution, must be reduced to in the impending struggle.

The bill was characteristic of those violent times when, instead of being guided by reason, we were to be put under the dominion of wild passion, and when our pretended alarms were to be made the pretexts for destroying the first principles of the very system which we affected to revere. Every warm expression, therefore, which he had used the night before, he now upon reflection justified and repeated; and even yet, while a moment was left him, he deprecated the horror of passing the bill into a law.

Mr. Fox said he would pass over all the lesser topics of the speech of his right honourable friend in order to come to that most portentous part of it, which had made an impression upon his mind never to be effaced, and which foretold the destruction of the British constitution. It was an argument, upon which if the present measure was really founded, that he hoped would even yet make the House pause before they proceeded further. His right honourable friend had said that to the existing evil of the Jacobinical doctrines remedies ought to be applied in gradation. From mild remedies he would proceed to remedies less mild, from less mild to severe, and through all the degrees of severity.

One step in his ladder

What by this argument was he to think of the present measure but that it was only one step in his ladder, and that if that should fail of producing its effect, he had still remedies more severe in reserve? The right honourable gentleman had tried already his gentle remedies; the alien bill was an anodyne, the treasonable correspondence hill was also a gentle medicine; and as these remedies had failed of producing the proper effect, nay, as by the King’s speech it was said that, notwithstanding these measures, the evil still existed with increased malignity, he was about to try this severer remedy; with the declared intention that if this should also fail he had still more violent measures to pursue.

When the experiment should have been made, and proved, like all the former, to have failed of producing the effects expected from it, he desired to know what must be the answer to this question if, next year, enough of the constitution should remain to enable him to put a question to the right honourable gentleman in his place – what would be done beyond this? After suspending the habeas corpus act, what would he do more? Would he prohibit all meetings of the people so as to debar them from all discussions on political subjects, and prevent all free intercourse between man and man? And when this should be found ineffectual, would he give to ministers the power of making arbitrary imprisonment perpetual? Would he still further go on in the exact and horrid imitation of the men who now held France in anarchy, and establish a revolutionary tribunal, or what, perhaps, he would call an anti-revolutionary tribunal?

Where would he stop? What limit did he propose to make? Was there no end of his plan of securities, until he should accomplish the end of annihilating all doctrines that he might affect to dread, or destroy all the disaffected spirits which he might pretend existed in the country? It was of consequence to the House to see what they were doing. They were told that what they had done was not enough; and that even this might not be enough. Good God! What was to be done after this? Under the colour of pretended alarms, were they to go on to an unlimited infringement and demolition of all the strongest and most beautiful parts of the constitution?

Because there was salmon in both

The right honourable gentleman was offended at the comparison that had been made between the conduct of Ministers and their adherents and the conduct of the present rulers in France, and he had with great felicity quoted from Captain Fluellan the comparison between the river in Macedon and the river in Monmouth, because there was salmon in both.

But with all respect for his wit, the right honourable gentleman must be content to incur the imputation of similarity when his own conduct and that of the rulers of France were so similar. They had taken great pains to throw odium on the pretended designs of a convention on account of the word convention. Let gentlemen look at their own conduct, and see if it was not in substance the same as that of the present rulers in France. What was the conduct of those rulers? From day to day they circulated stories of alarms and plots and conspiracies and insurrections among the people, to inflame and agitate their minds, and to spread panic and terror over the whole country, that they might take advantage of their fears and obtain unlimited power, to be exercised in carrying on and confirming that very terror. They inspired the double alarm of danger from conspiracy and danger from the exercise of their own unlimited power; exerted as it every day was in the most shocking murders, with hardly the aspect or form of judicial trial.

What was the conduct of the ministers here? Precisely in the same manner they circulated stories of alarms and conspiracies to fill the public mind with fear and, to use the jargon of the French, to make terror the order of the day. By spreading these false and idle alarms they succeeded in obtaining powers destructive of the constitution, which, as in France, were to be exercised with such inhuman rigour as to keep the country in double awe and, by fostering indignation and discontent, give rise again to new jealousies which would afford occasion for still further stretches of power. Thus they followed the example set them by the men whose doctrines they pretended to abhor with the most shocking fidelity. Every part of their conduct was built on the French model, and he dreaded that it would be productive too certainly of the same effects.

Compare the danger with the remedy

The precise question for the House was to compare the danger with the remedy. The pretended danger was, as we might collect from the documents that had been laid upon the table – documents that everyone had seen published in the newspapers – that there was in certain societies a tendency to a convention. Whether the word convention was a bugbear that was to be held up to terrify their imaginations he knew not; but it was of consequence to inquire a little into the nature of the thing, and not to be startled at names.

A convention, he supposed, meant no other than a meeting of the people; and if that meeting was for the discussion of any subject of general interest in a legal and peaceable way, there certainly was nothing in such meeting that could either call for or justify any such measure as the present. To a convention that had for its purpose to overawe the legislature, and to obtain any object, either of universal suffrage or other wild and impracticable theory, he should certainly not choose to give his countenance.

But if there was a convention either of individuals for themselves, or of delegates of towns and districts, for the purpose of striving, by petitions and addresses to the three branches of the legislature, to put an end to the present most ruinous and unprovoked war, he should certainly neither be ashamed nor afraid – at least not until after the present bill had, passed into a law – to attend, and be a member of such convention. But what was to be dreaded from even the convention that was threatened which the laws of the country were not of themselves sufficient to check? If they meant, by their intended convention, to overawe the government of this country at a moment of such unprecedented strength as the government now possessed, he would say that they were fit for Bedlam, and for Bedlam only. So perfectly and entirely was it possible for magistrates, in every part of the kingdom, to execute the laws that he would venture to say that if any man, or men, at such convention committed any illegal act, he or they might be sent to prison, and tried for the offence as securely as if no convention existed.

The danger, then, called for no remedy; and it was not because any such remedy was necessary that the present bill was introduced. It was to keep alive the passions of the people; it was to agitate and alarm their minds, to put them under the dominion of terror, and take from them the exercise of their rational faculties.

Ministers knew well the dangerous predicament in which they stood. They had weakly and, as he thought, wickedly involved the country in a most disastrous war. Every day plunged them deeper and deeper in the fatality which they had brought upon their country. They saw no hopes of extricating the nation from it with honour, nor of proceeding in it with success, and they dreaded all reflection on the subject: they knew that they had no safety but in depriving the people of repose; they knew that if the alarm should be suspended for a moment, and if men were allowed time and leisure for the exercise of their understandings, the war, and the principles on which it was undertaken, would be scrutinised and discussed. They dreaded to encounter so hazardous a trial, and all their measures had been directed to keep alive an incessant commotion, so as to suspend every operation of the public intellect.

For this reason a subscription had been set on foot; he said “for this reason,” because ministers had been open enough to acknowledge that it was not for money. It was, they had declared, to excite the zeal of the people. Zeal was one of those fervent emotions which would be favourable to their views, and which, while it lasted, would keep them from examining the objects of it. But the subscription, he supposed, had not succeeded to the hoped-for extent; that zeal which they had aroused was not equal, apparently, to the occasion, and they now strove to awaken a more powerful emotion, that of terror. In short, it was a government of passion, a government in which ministers strove to lull asleep all the sober operations of the mind, and to awaken only the fears and terrors of the heart.

Reason was their enemy

Reason they dreaded, for reason was their enemy. It was well said by a philosopher of great character that all men dreaded reason who acted against reason; and certainly it was natural and in the order of things that animals, which by their practice counteracted the natural course and dictates of reason, should shrink and dread as their enemy those who seemed to be guided by its wisdom.

It had been said that the secret committee had been spoken of in terms not the most respectful. He, for one, certainly could not speak of some members of that committee without expressing his high respect and regard for them. He was not among those who gave up their personal friendships on account of differences in political opinion.

A noble lord near him had, in very affecting terms, deplored the circumstance that in the present moment he differed from men so near and dear to his heart as to make him feel it like differing from himself; so he might say that for some of those persons, though he had not ties of consanguinity, he felt so sincere a regard and so poignant a regret at differing from them as to make it like a parting from himself. His early habits of respect, his warm affections, all led him to this feeling; but the present was not a time to compliment men, or to shrink from the severe duties which conscience imposed, from recollections of tenderness and esteem.

He must say, then, however highly he regarded some individuals of that committee that it was made up of two characters – men who were dupes themselves, or men who were willing to dupe others. Their whole report was trifling and inconsequential; it told nothing which every man did not know before; for the last assertion about arming, the right honourable gentleman had said, was merely supplemental, and was not to be taken as a component part of the report.

Then what did the report consist of? Of a collection of papers which had all been seen by the public and which, if they did contain any danger, was not a danger of that day. It was known by everyone, and steps might have been taken on the subject months ago. Their avowed intention was to procure a system of universal suffrage; and this the right honourable gentleman said was what had destroyed France. However freely he might be disposed to agree with him as to the wildness and impracticability of universal suffrage, he must doubt of the fact of its having been the cause of the destruction of France.

On the contrary, universal suffrage was to be considered rather as the effect than the cause; for the book of the right honourable gentleman , which had produced such enormous and fatal effects in England, had charged upon the French that they had not acted upon their own principles, but had narrowed the suffrage in a way totally inconsistent with their own doctrine.

Liberty was the essence of the British constitution

But were we to argue theoretically or practically from the example of France which the right honourable gentleman so incessantly presented to them? Was every man who had liberty in his mouth to be considered as a traitor, merely because liberty had been abused in France, and had been carried to the most shocking licentiousness? He would venture to say that if this was to be the consequence, fatal indeed would it be for England! If the love of liberty was not to be maintained in England; if the warm admiration of it was not to be cherished in the hearts of the people; if the maintenance of liberty was not to be inculcated as a duty; if it was not to be reverenced as our chief good, as our boast and pride and richest inheritance; – what else had we worthy of our care? Liberty was the essence of the British constitution. King, lords, commons and courts of judicature were but the forms; the basis of the constitution was liberty, that grand and beautiful fabric, the first principle of which was government by law, and which this day they were going to suspend.

He called upon the right honourable gentleman to say whether there was any true parallel between the constitution of this country and the old government of France that we should dread the same effects from Jacobinical doctrines which that despotic government had suffered? France had no habeas corpus act: France had no system of respect for the liberties of the people; it had not been because France had held out a mild and equal government by law that France had been overcome by the doctrines of Jacobinism.

On the contrary, it was a fair conjecture that if France had had a habeas corpus act and had not suspended it, if France had upon every occasion respected the rights and the liberties of the people, the doctrines of Jacobinism would not have prevailed over the established power. He stated this as not an improbable conjecture; he did not presume to lay much stress upon such conjecture, but it was material to the right honourable gentleman in supporting his argument to prove that the old government of France had been overthrown because there was a want of power; for his argument was that we must go on from measure to measure until we should arm ministers with sufficient power to resist and overcome all innovation, and until they had rooted out all appearance of Jacobinical principles. The despotism of Louis XVI had not been sufficient to save France from Jacobin doctrines. Were we to go beyond that despotism to give ourselves greater security than France possessed?

If one hot medicine failed, a hotter only was to be tried

The doctrines of the right honourable gentleman went to the utter extinction of every vestige of the constitution; and such was the effect of his principle that it was impossible to limit the progress of his remedies; they were all to be hot medicines; he did not admit the possibility of doing any good by the contrary practice. If one hot medicine failed a hotter only was to be tried; and thus he was to proceed, through all the race of the most powerful stimulants, instead of trying what the opposite course of cooling mixtures and gentle anodynes might produce.

What the nature of his provocatives was he had condescended to state. He had alluded to his former opinion, that if the laws of this country were not sufficient for the suppression of seditious practices, the laws of Scotland, not as they really existed, but as they were stated to exist, should be introduced; and so he supposed one of his plans was that juries should decide by a majority instead of deciding with unanimity; and that men should be punished with sentences more rigorous than immediate death; that was, should be sent to die far away from all the civilised world merely on account of a political opinion.

And these severities were to be introduced – for what? Because any great body of people were disaffected to the state? No, no such thing! It was the boast of Ministers and their adherents that every part of the country was most strictly united in love and attachment to the constitution. But all this was to be introduced because some low persons, without property and without consideration in the country, were found to entertain opinions about a parliamentary reform that were thought to be dangerous. How long would it take to eradicate these opinions from the minds of these men? Did they mean to keep them all in confinement under this bill? They would be forward, he supposed, to disclaim any such intention. What did they mean, then, to do? To suspend one of the grandest principles of the constitution of England until there should be found no men within the kingdom tinctured with discontent, or who cherished the design of reform.

If they meant to suspend the habeas corpus act until such time, there was an end of it in this country. And what did they declare by this to all mankind? That there was no period when it would be possible to restore to the country that grand and inestimable right; that the constitution of England was fit only for an Utopian society where all men lived in perfect concord, without one jarring sentiment, without one discontented feeling; but that it was utterly unfit for a world of mortal and mixed men, unfit for any state of society that ever did exist upon the face of the earth, or that was ever likely to exist.

Never, never then, upon this doctrine, was it probable that we should again recover this most essential part of the British constitution; for it was not the will of Providence that society should be formed so perfect and unmixed, so free from all passions, as to meet the ideas upon which it was contended that the constitution of England could be with safety conferred upon them.

It was said that the example of France threatened not only this, but all the countries of the world. Whatever this right honourable gentleman might feel upon this subject, there were several countries who thought differently, or which at least did not seek their protection by similar measures. They found their safer course was in being neutral as to the war, and in preserving to their people the blessings of peace and industry. “But America even felt alarmed.” If it was true that America felt alarmed, it would be wise for that House to observe what had been her conduct in that alarm. Had she involved herself in a bellum internecinum to exterminate French principles? Had she suspended her habeas corpus act? Had she passed an alien bill? A treasonable correspondence act? Had she shocked every feeling, every humane and every considerate mind, by the scandalous rigour of her legal punishments? Had she plunged herself into a war, and loaded her people with new and excessive burdens? No: she had maintained a strict and perfect neutrality as to the belligerent powers; and she had protected herself at home by exhibiting to her people all the beauties of their own system, by securing to them all their privileges in their full enjoyment, by enlarging rather than abridging their liberties, and by showing that, so far from dreading comparison, she placed her confidence in leaving to the free judgment of the people the most ample discussion of political doctrines.

Popular discussion was a salutary and an essential privilege

With regard to the persons who composed these societies, he certainly knew little of them; it could not be supposed that he entertained any peculiar partiality towards them, at least if men were to judge from the opinion they had always delivered of him; they had never failed to speak of opposition, and of himself personally, with exactly the same expressions as they had used towards administration. The same distrust of their conduct, the same avowed hostility, appeared in their writings towards both. They had certainly paid him personally a compliment in mentioning him at the same time with the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as far as regarded the splendid talents of that right honourable gentleman; but it was not equally flattering to him to be put on a comparison with that right honourable gentleman in regard to their right to the confidence of the public.

It was not likely, therefore, that he was actuated by any partial regard to these societies; but he considered it as an unwise and illiberal course to take advantage of any odium that there might be against persons in order to stigmatise measures which might otherwise be good. Though there were among these societies men of low and desperate fortunes who might be very ready to embrace any enterprise, however hazardous, and though there might be others whom he believed, from their characters, to possess wicked intentions, yet still that was no argument with him for casting a general obloquy on measures which were in themselves harmless.

To deny to the people the right of discussion because upon some occasions that right had been exercised by indiscreet or bad men was what he could not subscribe to. The right of popular discussion was a salutary and an essential privilege of the subject. He would not answer long for the conduct of Parliament if it were not subject to the jealousy of the people. They all entertained becoming respect for the executive government, that was, for the chief magistrate of the kingdom, but their respect for the king did not supersede the vigilance of parliament. In his opinion, the best security for the due maintenance of the constitution was in the strict and incessant vigilance of the people over parliament itself.

Meetings of the people, therefore, for the discussion of public objects were not merely legal, but laudable; and unless it was to be contended that there was some magic in the word convention which brought with it disorder, anarchy, and ruin, he could perceive no just ground for demolishing the constitution of England merely because it was intended to hold a meeting for the purpose of obtaining a parliamentary reform.

With respect to their plan, that of universal suffrage, he never had but one opinion on the subject. He had constantly and uniformly considered universal suffrage as a wild and ridiculous idea. When his noble relation, the Duke of Richmond, had one day taken pains to explain his ideas on this subject, a learned and ingenious friend of his said to him, with as much truth as wit, “My lord, I think the best part of your grace’s plan is its utter impracticability.”

He had always thought that it was impracticable; and though he could not agree with the opinion, that rather than continue the present state of representation he would incur all the hazards of universal suffrage, yet he was ready to say that the measures of last year, the horrid and detestable prosecutions, the scandalous sentences that had been passed, and the scandalous way in which they had been executed, did not tend to make him wish less than heretofore for some reform that should protect the country against these violations of good sense, propriety and justice. If the habeas corpus act was to be suspended upon such an argument as had been advanced that night, and we were to go on step by step, as we were threatened, with the introduction of the Scots criminal code, with the extinction, perhaps, of the trial by jury, and he should then be asked what was his opinion, he did not know but he should be ready to prefer any change to such a horrid situation as the country would then be reduced to.

The unknown miseries of a revolution

He made no scruple to own that the events which had lately passed in France had made a most powerful impression on his mind. He should not do justice to himself if he did not frankly confess that they had served to correct several opinions which he previously held; they had served also to confirm many former opinions. They had convinced his mind of the truth of an observation of Cicero, one of the most common, which was early taught in their grammars, but from which, when a boy, his heart revolted. It was this:

Iniquissimam pacem justissimo bello antefero.

He had, in the ardour natural to youth, thought this a most horrid and degrading sentiment. What! Give up a just and glorious cause merely on account of the dangers and, perhaps, the miseries of war? When he came to maturer years he thought the sentiment at least doubtful, but he was now ready to confess that the events of the French revolution had made the wisdom of the sentiment clear and manifest to his mind. He was ready to say that he could hardly frame to himself the condition of a people in which he would not rather covet to continue than to advise them to fly to arms, and strive to seek redress through the unknown miseries of a revolution. Our own glorious revolution in 1688 had happily been clear of all these horrors; that of 1641 had shown a great deal of this kind of calamity; but the French revolution had exhibited the scene in its most shocking aspect.

The more, however, his heart was weaned from such experiments, the more he detested and abhorred all acts on the part of any government which tended to exasperate the people, to engender discontent, to alienate their hearts, and to spirit them up to resistance and to the desire of change. The more he deprecated resistance, the more he felt bound to oppose all foolish and presumptuous acts on the part of government, by which they expressed a disdain for the feelings of the people, or by which they strove to keep down all complaint by inhuman severities. He was convinced that wise men, deliberately weighing the relative duties of government and people, and judging of human nature as it was, would see the wisdom of mutual concessions, would recommend incessant conciliation, and would deplore all measures which could exasperate and inflame the minds of the people and induce them to wish for the horrors of a change.

Persecution had never been successful in extirpating opposition

Nothing was so dear from all the history of England as that we had never been so fortunate as when the government had conciliated the people; never so miserable as when a wretched system of persecution had been unhappily and unwisely adopted by ministers. Persecution had never been successful in extirpating opposition to any system either religious or civil. It was not merely the divinity of Christianity that had made it triumph; for other religions, certainly not divine, but which were founded in imposture, as well as a number of the wildest sects, had thriven and flourished under persecution, on account, as he believed, of that very persecution. The human mind was roused by oppression; and so far from yielding to persecution, exerted all its energies in consequence of the attacks it had to encounter. Was it believed that, if there was a party in this country who cherished in their hearts the desire of reform, the sentiment could be extirpated by exercising over the individuals legal severities? Impotent were the men who thought that opinions could be so encountered!

Demonstrate to every man the blessings of our system

There were some things that were most successfully vanquished by neglect. America held out to us the true course and the wise plan to be pursued. Let us, like her, demonstrate to every man the blessings of our system. Let us show that we not only are convinced that it is good, but that it will bear to be examined and compared with any other system. Let us make the people proud to court comparison, and strive rather to add new blessings to those they enjoy than to abridge those which they already possess.

Let us think for a moment what must be the joy which the present measure, if adopted, will produce in France. How will it be received in the convention? Barrere will, no doubt, triumphantly hold it forth as a proof that all the stories which he has tried to propagate in France, of there being a party in this country favourable to them, are true. At least he would say it had broken out to such a height that Ministers could no longer think the government safe, and the constitution was to be suspended in order to protect the state against the French party.

If any accounts of the true state of this kingdom had reached France, which told them that we were united almost as one man against all doctrines which led to anarchy, Barrere would hold up the present measure in contradiction to that faithful report and say that it was obvious there must be a formidable party in England in favour of French doctrines, when one of the most beautiful branches of our boasted constitution was to be lopped from the tree. Nay, though he for one had always treated with scorn the idea of an invasion, he asked those who held out that fear to the country if anything could be more likely to induce the French to undertake such an enterprise than by thus giving to them the impression that we were threatened with an insurrection at home?

Some words had passed as if he had the night before said that he would withdraw his attendance from the House. He thought it incumbent upon him to say that he should act in this respect as upon reflection he felt it to be his duty to his constituents. But he certainly had not said that he should withdraw from the House.

Mr. Fox concluded with a strong admonition to the House on the present alarming measure. He said he saw it was to pass; that further effort was vain; that the precipitation with which it had been hurried on made it idle for him to hope that argument would induce them to hesitate; and all that remained for him was to pronounce his solemn protest against a measure pregnant with consequences so fatal to the established order and strength and freedom of the country.

2 responses to “Great Liberal Speeches: Charles James Fox Fox on the suspension of habeas corpus”

  1. Mark

    My First Politics seems a good idea for a book.

    potentially penetrating; emotionally informative; format and information.
    Very interesting to read and I am sure if you keep it going many many people will like to contribute their pieces..

    You get gems like the Czech woman at the roadside in a red scarf.
    The red scarf brings it home.
    The whole of the C20; how ‘close it is to home’..

    A publisher (or you or a colleague) could get an editor or a journalist (or just keep requesting inputs on your website, and maybe others) to get hundreds of these.
    A good journalist could interview a few of the most interesting ones
    It could be illustrated with the occasional historical picture.

    A history of the 20C and 2C through child’s eyes.

    I think ppl would like to read it.

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