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Political Offenders

Volume 58: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1841

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

said, as the principal object sought by the numerous petitions he had to present would be fully detailed in his address on the motion on the paper, he thought he would best consult the feeling of the House by merely asking the House to receive the petitions, and stating the numbers by which they were signed. The large petition was signed by rather more than 1,300,000 of the industrious classes. The others were signed by—from Manchester, 9,997; Newport, 5,300; Chorley, Stockton, Congleton, Gatehouse, Cardiff, Holt, Montrose, Newcastle, Dublin, Norfolk, Chester, Derby, Ripon, Northampton, and twenty-three places in the neighbourhood of London. These were signed by 48,884, making, in all, the signatures 1,348,848. The first prayer of these petitions was this: —

" Your petitioners therefore pray, that your hon. House will permit a humble address to her Majesty, praying that she may be graciously pleased to give immediate directions for the liberation of all prisoners now confined in the several gaols of Great Britain for political offences."
The second prayer was:—
" That your hon. House will be graciously pleased to present another humble address, praying that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to grant a free pardon to J. Frost, Z. Williams, and W. Jones, now suffering the penalties of expatriation in a penal settlement."
The third prayer was, that this House, having done these things, would adopt the principle of the Charter.

said, he thought it would be but fair and satisfactory to that House and to the country, that the hon. Member who had presented these petitions should allow the prayer of the petition to be read to the House. He would, therefore move that that be done.

The Clerk read the prayer of the petition.

said, he was entitled to ask why the prayer was not annexed to the petition, which was the usual mode, instead of having the prayer separate and distinct, as in the present instance.

said, that if the hon. and gallant Member would take the trouble of unrolling the petition, he would find, that the prayer which had been read was a fac-simile of that attached to the petition. The petition which he (Mr. T. Duncombe) now presented came from the female operatives of England, Scotland, and Wales.

said, that it was the larger petition of which the hon. and gallant Member wished to hear the prayer read.

said, that he understood the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had stated, that the prayer of the petition which he held in his hand was identical with that attached to the large petition on the Table, and there was, therefore, an opportunity of learning its substance; there would be, moreover, great difficulty in unrolling the latter petition on account of its great size. Under those circumstances, he trusted his hon. and gallant Friend would withdraw his motion.

said, he had not the least wish to throw any obstruction in the way of the reception of the petition. On the contrary, he was always anxious that the petitions of all classes of the people should be duly considered by that House. He wished the prayer of the petition to be read, because it was important; but after what had been said, he would do as his right hon. Friend suggested, and would give the House no further trouble on the subject.

said, that the right hon. Baronet had suggested the best course to be pursued, and he was glad the hon. and gallant Member had acceded to it. It was impossible not to see, that the hon. and gallant Member, besides wishing to hear the prayer of the petition, wished also to make a jest of it.

said, that he treated the noble Lord's admonition as he did the whole of his public conduct, with the most utter contempt.

had reason to believe, that the hon. and gallant Member had abandoned the intention of pressing for the reading of the prayer of the petition before the right hon. Baronet (the Member for Tamworth) spoke. It certainly was irregular not to have the prayer of a petition exactly stated, and any Member of the House might require that to be done without intending to cast the slightest reflection on those who had signed it, or meaning to interpose the least impediment in the way of its reception,

said, that whatever might have been the intention of the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln, it was quite evident, that the presentation of such a petition afforded no subject of merriment to Ministers.

Petitions received.

said, that the hon. and gallant Colonel had disavowed the intention of treating the petition with ridicule; but if the gallant Colonel had not done so, he would have said that he never saw a better imitation of an attempt to turn the petitions of the people into ridicule, and treat them with contempt. Whatever might be the fate of the motion with which he intended to conclude, he thought it would be admitted, that it would ill become him to present petitions signed by between 1,300,000 and 1,400,000 of the industrious classes, and to leave their allegations undiscussed and unheeded by those who called themselves the representatives of the people. For that reason, therefore, he would call the attention of the House to many, but not the whole of the contents of the petitions. He was well aware, he should be told that he was, on this occasion, trenching on the prerogative of the Crown; but there were cases in which the House of Commons had taken upon itself to advise the Crown as to the exercise of its prerogative. He could quote precedents on that point. He might remind the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, that in 1820 he moved an address to the Crown for the liberation of Sir Manasseh Lopez, who was then undergoing confinement pursuant to a sentence of the Court of King's Bench, for Bribery and corruption. On that occasion Mr. Wynn, who had always been considered a high authority, distinctly maintained, that the House of Commons had a right to advise the Crown respecting the exercise of its prerogative. That right hon. Gentleman said:—

" He felt, that it was extremely unpleasant to oppose a motion of this description, and to endeavour to thwart the disposition of lenity which the House might feel towards any particular offender. Every Gentleman must wish to show mercy and forbearance,, as far as justice would permit; but the case in point was not one in which consistently with their duty, with the forms of Parliament, and with propriety they could interfere. Cases might exist, in which the House might in justice be called on to advise the Crown to interpose, and to exercise its prerogative of mercy, in the same way as they might offer advice with respect to any other prerogative; for the House had a right to advise the Crown on matters connected with all its prerogatives."*
* Hansard, vol. ii., new series, p. 369.
That was the opinion given by Mr. Wynn, and although Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning opposed the motion on the part of the Government, the expression of feeling was so strong in favour of Sir M. Lopez, that notwithstanding the noble Lord withdrew his motion, the prisoner was soon after set at liberty, after he had undergone confinement for eight months out of two years to which he had been sentenced. If the Government of that day showed indulgence to Sir M. Lopez, who was convicted of what must be considered a great crime, the Government of the present day ought not to be less merciful towards the persons to whom his motion referred. His motion was confined to persons who were imprisoned for political offences in England and Wales. The prayers of the petitions went farther, but he stopped at that point. When he was applied to by the persons who wished him to bring the subject under the consideration of the House, he stated to them, that if he were to mix up the case of the political offenders with that of Frost, Williams, and Jones, and the Charter, it would greatly prejudice the former. He reminded them, that last Session, when an hon. Member moved, that a pardon should be granted to Frost, Williams, and Jones,
* Hansard, vol. ii., new series, p. 369.
the motion was negatived by a large majority, only five Members, indeed, having voted for it. He, therefore, told them, that it was of no use to make a proposal of that kind. As to proposing the Charter to that House, he told them, that he himself had made motions of the mildest possible kind with regard to the franchise— all of which had been negatived by large majorities; he wished he could say, that motions for the disfranchisement of electors had been rejected by majorities as large, but they unfortunately had not. In the observations he had to make, he should confine himself to the case of the home prisoners; and upon that case he hoped the discussion would be taken. Many of the individuals now confined had suffered for more than twelve months the most rigorous treatment, and the petition ers, in contrasting the treatment those persons had received, with that of others, said, that when a Chartist was found guilty of attending an illegal meeting, there was no hope or chance for escape. They stated they had seen a Peer of the realm acquitted, and, as they acknowledged, justly acquitted, by a jury of his peers, of a charge of felony, because the charge was so loosely brought, that it could not be sustained. One of the petitions complained of the sentences passed upon some of the Chartists contrasted with that passed upon Lord Waldegrave and Captain Duff. And here he begged to observe, that the fact of the name of Captain Duff being mentioned in the petition, appeared to have come to the knowledge of the friends and relatives of that gentleman, and within an hour he had received a memorandum from Captain Duff's connections, the contents of which he begged leave to read to the House:—
" May 25, 1841.
" Mr. William Duff was on the 3rd of this month sentenced by the Court of Queen's Bench to six months' imprisonment and a fine of 20l., for the alleged offence of being a party to a brutal assault upon a policeman at Twickenham. His entire innocence of the grave part of the offence is now well known, but that innocence was not made manifest at his trial, from his unwillingness to expose others to punishment. Mr. Duff fully admits having been present in the first part of the disturbance; he admits having assisted Lord Waldegrave when seized by the collar by a policeman; but no violence of any kind was used on this occasion, either by him or any other of the party; and who can doubt, that had the matter ended here, no legal proceedings would ever have taken place? In the second disturbance, Mr. Duff took no part whatever. After the occurrence above detailed, he separated from the party, leaving them in Twickenham, and proceeded on foot, accompanied by a gentleman, whose name it is not necessary to mention, towards Strawberry hill. He was not aware, until overtaken by the rest of the party in the fly, a mile from the place where the assault was committed, that any further collision had taken place with the police; it was on this occasion that the policeman was hurt, and two gentlemen who have hitherto escaped even suspicion of the offence were the active parties in the assault. All the circumstances above detailed can be distinctly proved, and are undergoing investigation in the proper quarter."
Reverting now to the subject of his motion, he had to state to the House, that subsequent to the 1st of January, 1839, there were 444 persons convicted of political offences, 398 of whom had since been released, and one had died soon after his incarceration. At the present time, there were 33 remaining under punishment. What had given an impetus to the feeling of anxiety on behalf of those prisoners was, that those 398 persons who had been emancipated from prison, either by the expiration of their sentences or by the clemency of the Home Office, had stated to their friends the indignities and cruelties they had suffered when in confinement. It was natural, that those persons should make a great and determined effort to save their friends who remained in prison from a continuance of the same treatment themselves had experienced. What had been the treatment, that some of those who had been liberated had undergone? Some of them had been released in consequence chiefly of bad health, but he would ask whether it was right that political offenders merely should be kept in prison, to the deterioration of their constitutions? He would read to the House a letter he had received from a man of the name of Hoey, descriptive of the treatment he had received when confined in Wakefield Gaol:—
" Barnsley, May 20.
" Sir—I beg to inform you, that I am one of those individuals who have been liberated from Wakefield twelve months before the time which was two years. My release took place owing to an ulcer on my leg, brought on by cruel discipline and bad diet, and I am compelled to say, much to my sorrow, that I am an invalid the remaining part of my life; I never had an hour's ill health before. Our discipline runs thus. In the summer season we had to rise at half-past five in the morning, go out into an open yard, there wash ourselves in a bucket of water, which was to serve perhaps fifty individuals, so you may judge what cleanliness there was for the last dabbler; towels, in like manner, which after the second or third individual using, was of no further use for comfort; breakfast was then served up, consisting of a quart of thin gruel, and half a pound of bread; dinner the same, supper the same, excepting that they limited the gruel to one pint at supper; Sundays and Wednesdays we got five ounces of beef, and half a pound of potatoes, and one pint of broth on Mondays and Thursdays. This was our diet. We had to work in the summer from six in the morning to six in the afternoon, under the silent system, treated with as much contumely as if we were common felons; and one grievance I have most particularly to complain of, that is, we could not answer to the necessities of nature without permission from the superintending officer; the mode of asking was by signal, that is, by putting on your cap in the summer, and taking it off in winter. I have sat in the utmost torment for three quarters of an hour, before I dare leave the place; for the least violation of the rules would deprive me of my miserable supper, and if repeated, send me to a solitary place of confinement. In the winter, we had to rise at half-past six, perform the same ablution in filthy water, and to work during the inclemency of the weather, frost or snow, sleet or rain, without any fire to comfort us in the room where we worked. This is but a very brief outline of the hardships we endured.
" I have the honour to be,
"Your obedient servant,
" PETEH. HOEY.
" T. S. Duucombe, Esq., M.P."
He would now read to the House a communication he had received from a person named Smith, who had been a prisoner for sedition:—
" Charles Street, Oxford Road, Manchester, "May 21, 1841.
" Sir—I am requested to send you an account of my sufferings, which occurred during my sad imprisonment for sedition. I am at this moment in the height of agony, being afflicted with pain in my limbs. It is, therefore, next to impossible for me to give a detailed account at this time. However, I will attend to this matter as soon as I am able. I hope, Sir, this will suffice at present, when I inform you that during the term of my imprisonment, the surgeon of the prison prescribed for me, which I took, twenty-three bottles of medicine besides pills and powders. I had also one blister on my neck, eight plasters on the small of my back, four on my knees, one on my breast. My sentence was eighteen months' confine- ment in Preston House of Correction, after which I was doomed to find bail to the merciful amount of 700l. Remember, Sir, this sentence was passed upon one who had been made a cripple in the cotton factories; yes, one who had been carried to the mill some hundreds of times, when unable to walk. Please, Sir, excuse me in saying no more at this time, as I am sorely in pain. Perhaps, you will acknowledge the receipt of this.
" I am your most obedient servant,
" GEORGE HENRY SMITH.
"To T. S. Duncombe, Esq., M.P."
Bail, it appeared, had been required in the case he had just read, to the amount of 700l. Was it possible, that such an amount of bail could have been required of a poor working man? Why, more would scarcely have been asked in the case of Sir Francis Burdett, or Mr. Hunt, or persons in that class, who had heretofore been confined for political offences. The next case to which he would call the attention of the House was one in which a man had died in prison, and was as follows:—
" Clayton, who died in prison, complained once of a pain in his back, and staled, that he considered it was occasioned by the hard labour of the mill. He attempted to say something further to induce the visiting surgeon to remove him, when the governor's son, who was the superintendent of the prison, would not allow him to proceed. He had been in solitary confinement on a charge of violating the silent system. He died about six weeks after his complaining. He pleaded guilty in consequence of a promise held out to him, that he would be let out on his recognizances, but was afterwards sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour."
There was also the case of a person named Lovell, now confined in the Penitentiary at Millbank, who stated he had been misled by the Chartist leaders. A petition in favour of that person had been got up by both the late and present mayors of Newport, and the most respectable merchants and bankers, to Lord Normanby. Lovell had been sentenced, with four others, to transportation for life; but the sentence was commuted to five years' imprisonment in the Penitentiary. Two of the prisoners, John Rees and Richard Benfield, who were sentenced with him to transportation, had since returned to their homes. Lovell's sentence commenced in December, 1839, and he had consequently three years and seven months to serve. He had always borne an excellent charac- ter for honesty, sobriety, and industry, was of a quiet and peaceable disposition, but, being misled by the leaders of the Chartists, he formed one of the mob that assailed the Westgate. Those persons who signed the petition for his release, said, that at the Special Commission held at Monmouth, Lovell, acting under the advice of William Foster Geach, pleaded guilty; Geach assuring him, that if he did so, he would be sentenced to nine months' imprisonment only. Lovell was nevertheless sentenced to transportation for life, and the sentence was afterwards commuted to five years' imprisonment in the Penitentiary. Now, at the Penitentiary the silent system under which Lovell had been placed, was most horrible, and he was treated with all the rigour that the rules of that prison admitted. From all he had heard, he was disposed to think, that the hardships that had been complained of, were confined to the different houses of correction. He had received a letter from a person confined in Lancaster Castle, which stated the conduct of the governor to be most humane and gentlemanly. Now, the question was, whether such treatment was to be inflicted upon persons confined for political offences. Not only were they treated like felons, but they were actually treated worse than felons. He found, that for the most part, the sentences on the most atrocious cases of felony, such as horse stealing—except when they amounted to transportation—were limited to one year, whereas the term for which political offenders were confined, varied from one to five years. When felons were released at the expiration of their time, they were not asked to enter into sureties to keep the peace, but the political prisoners were called upon to find heavy recognizances. Was that fair? He said, it was a difference that ought not to exist. What object was to be gained by keeping these men in prison? To make punishment effective public opinion must go hand in hand with it, and he would maintain that public opinion was against the continued imprisonment of these individuals. After all, a seditious libel was but a matter of opinion, and these prisoners would come out of confinement, without a moral stain upon them. On the contrary, the mass of persons who had signed the petitition he had had the honour to present to the House that evening, would re- ceive them as martyrs. Of what use would it be to keep them in prison? Was it thought they had not received punishment enough? If any hon. Members thought so, let them slate so boldly. But they knew nothing of human nature if they thought by persecution to put clown public opinion. The petitioners would be satisfied to leave their case in the hands of the House if they could see the system of class legislation done away with. Perhaps, that was the last opportunity which the House would have of receiving a petition signed by so many hundreds of thousands of their fellow-countrymen, and it was for the House to say how far they would meet their wishes, and comply with their prayers. He had discharged his duty in stating the prayer of that petition, to the House, and he trusted he had done so without giving offence to any one, and without prejudicing the case of the persons who had honoured him by committing it to his charge. He left the petition in the hands of the House, and trusted, that the vote they came to, would give general satisfaction to the countless thousands in the country who were awaiting in breathless anxiety the result of their deliberations. The hon. Member concluded by moving,
"That an humble address be presented to her Majesty, humbly praying, that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to take into her merciful consideration the case of all persons confined in England and Wales, for political offences."

in rising to address himself to the subject, which he agreed with his hon. Friend was one by no means destitute of interest, must in the first place allude to a sentence in the prayer of the petition just presented relating to the levity and frivolity with which the petition in favour of the national charter had been received. He was in the House at the time, and could bear testimony that no symptoms of levity or frivolity had been exhibited on that remarkable occasion when a petition, perhaps the largest ever presented to that House, was laid upon the Table by the hon. Member for Birmingham in a manner which he (Mr. Fox Maule) was sure had won for that hon. Gentleman the respect of all parties in that House, even of those who most differed from the hon. Member in political opinion. And he was sure that there was no wish on the part of any one in the House to receive the present petition with anything like levity or frivolity. It was a petition from a vast body of the working classes, a body of whom he would say, that whatever the faults that might have led to the situation in which some of them were then placed, had during the last month at least conducted themselves in a manner to secure for them the respect of their countrymen at large, and even of those who thought that the demands they made for political privileges were somewhat exaggerated, and ought not to be conceded. With regard to the precedent quoted by his hon. Friend, of the House interfering to address the Crown for the exercise of the prerogative, he (Mr. F. Maule) thought the case was not one in point, and he believed that the address was not made in that instance until after a much longer period than that mentioned by his hon. Friend, namely, eight months. He did not dispute the right of that House to address the Crown for the exercise of its prerogative; he fully admitted the right of the representatives of the people to address the Crown upon any subject they thought proper; but he much questioned, in the exercise of that privilege, the expediency of that House interfering too frequently, or, except under most urgent circumstances, by an address to the Crown. The exercise of the prerogative was established as an inherent right in the Crown, for the purpose of being extended in all cases where it might be of use or properly applied, and it was for the House to watch that prerogative that it might not be exercised for bad or selfish purposes. But if the House were too frequently to take upon itself to address the Crown for an exercise of this prerogative, he feared that circumstances might arise when parties out of doors having before them the encouragement that the House of Commons would interfere to mitigate their punishment, might be led into the commission of offences, with a hope set before them that perhaps might not be realized. Under these circumstances, he doubted the expediency of taking the course proposed by his hon. Friend. With regard to the treatment of the prisoners who had been convicted of political offences, he could not undertake to follow his hon. Friend through all the details into which he had entered, and some of which were entirely new; but thus much he could say, that in no in- stance whatever had the sentence of the law been inflicted with a greater degree of severity than the sentence demanded, or than the general rules and regulations of the prison in which the prisoners were confined justified. There had been no desire on the part of the executive Government, no desire on the part of the juries, or of the magistrates, to inflict punishment on these misguided men for the sake of obtaining revenge for the crimes they had committed. If there had been any interference to prevent the people of England from meeting to discuss their wants and grievances—a right he trusted they would always have—then there might have been some excuse for the proceedings that had taken place in 1839 and 1840, and which had led to the events of which his hon. Friend had complained. But no such inclination had been evinced, and it was therefore with the deepest regret that he had beheld those proceedings gradually assuming that unconstitutional appearance which had at last led to the interference of the Government, and that where peace and good order ought to have prevailed, sedition and tumult were abroad. To meet those difficulties, the Government had asked for no extraordinary powers; they simply called into action the law as it stood, and they found that law sufficient for the purpose. Juries had been found to do their duty honestly, impartially, and fairly; and he must say, that if all the now existing punishments were to be at once swept away, it would by no means be an encouragement, when the hour of difficulty might again come—but which he sincerely hoped would never be the case—to juries in courts of justice to fulfil their obligations. He thought his hon. Friend had treated the matter somewhat too lightly. Some of the offences that had been committed might, indeed, be called political offences; but it seemed impossible to designate such crimes as high treason, or taking up arms to oppose the law, merely by that term. It was true, they were political offences; but when in this country so mild a term was applied, it was presumed that something less in magnitude was meant than the crimes for which those persons were suffering whose release his hon. Friend now sought. In the years 1839 and 1840, about 467 persons were tried for offences connected with Chartism, and of that number 379 were convicted. Of the persons so convicted, thirty-nine were at present in prison, of whose sentences the following periods remained to be undergone:—nine, transportation for life; one, transportation for ten years; one, imprisonment for two years and eleven months; one, imprisonment for two years and four months; three, imprisonment for one year and ten months (sentenced to seven years' transportation); five, imprisonment for ten months; twelve, imprisonment for nine months; one, imprisonment for six months; two, imprisonment for four months; four, imprisonment for three months—total, thirty-nine. The following pardons, commutations, and remissions had been granted to Chartist prisoners:—twelve sentenced to death, commuted, nine, to transportation for life, one, to ten years, and two to one year's imprisonment; eight prisoners received a free pardon; four had sureties remitted; four, sureties reduced; two, hard labour, remitted; four, removed to gaols where the discipline was less severe than at those to which they were committed—total, thirty-four. It would be observed, from the foregoing statements that not one person had suffered the extreme penalty of the law. In nine of the most atrocious cases, the parties were sentenced to transportation for life, and one for ten years. Whenever her Majesty's Governvernment could, consistently with the ends of justice, interfere on the side of mercy, they had never been indisposed so to do. He might mention that liberty had been offered to two individuals on condition of their entering into their own recognizances but they preferred remaining their time. With regard to that part of the prayer of the petitioners alluding to Frost, Williams and Jones, he should be deceiving the House, his constituents, and the country, if he were to hold out any hope that he could be a party to a free pardon being offered to those three individuals. Instead of addressing the House of Commons and asking it to pass the charter without any alteration, he trusted that his hon. Friend would give them the opportunity of discussing the merits of the charter by proposing himself to bring in a bill embodying the whole of the different objects which the charter professed to have in view. That was the only way in which these questions could be properly discussed. There was one part of the charter for which he had already given his vote in that House; there were other parts of it to which he could not give his consent. But the only proper way to consider them was in reference to each other. With respect to the whole question, he trusted that his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe), having called the attention of the House to it, and having awakened (if, indeed, it were necessary to awaken) the attention of the Government to the state of the individuals who were now in prison, would not press his motion to a division on the present occasion. It did not appear that his hon. Friend could, by so doing, in anyway improve the position in which he had placed himself by his calm aud moderate statement in favour of the parties whose cause he had undertaken. With respect to the complaint which his hon. Friend had made as to the disparity of punishment in the cases of some of the humbler class of Chartist offenders, as compared with the amount of punishment inflicted in the case of Mr. Feargus O'Connor, Mr. Bronterre O'Brien, and others, who had greater means at their command, he must be allowed to remind his hon. Friend that different sentences were passed upon different individuals, that some were condemned by the courts in which they were tried, to expiate their offences by simple imprisonment, whilst others were condemned to expiate theirs by hard labour. In all cases, however, a considerable power of mitigation (where circumstances should appear to demand it) was vested in the visiting justices. He would not touch upon the points to which his hon. Friend had referred, comparing the sentence and punishment of Mr. Plunkett and Captain Duff, with the sentences passed upon the Chartist prisoners. It was sufficient for him to inform the House that, outrageous as was the conduct of Mr. Plunkett, he had already suffered far more than the penalty of simple imprisonment, for twice during his confinement he had lost the opportunity of promotion, which he would certainly have obtained had he been at liberty. With respect to Captain Duff, he begged to state that that Gentleman enjoyed no greater relaxations or indulgence at the present moment in the Queen's Bench, than was accorded to Mr. Feargus O'Connor, as long as he was under the charge of the marshall of that prison. It did not occur to him that there were any other points upon which it was necessary for him to address the House upon that occasion. He would, therefore conclude by saying, that although he deeply regretted the circumstances in which these individuals were placed, still, for the reasons he had stated, he could not consent to become a party to an address to the Crown on their behalf, and he trusted that his hon. Friend would not feel it necessary to press the motion.

declared that, if the hon. Member for Finsbury divided the House upon the motion, he should certainly vote with him, for he thought the speech just made by the Under-Secretary furnished ample materials to show that this was a case in which the House might very properly press upon the Crown, the propriety of exercising its prerogative of mercy. He thought that all the objects of punishment had been fully attained. No Chartist was now breaking the law. The arm of mercy, therefore, might be safely extended. At first, he (Mr. O'Connell) had felt some jealousy about the petition presented by the hon. Member for Finsbury, because it asked only for an extension of the royal mercy to political offenders throughout England and Wales. He thought for the moment that the petitioners had forgotten Ireland; but on reflection, he remembered that Ireland had now no political offenders; that she had no demand for mercy, only for justice. The ends and purposes of justice in the case of these political offenders in England and Wales having been fully satisfied, he (Mr. O'Connell) thought that the time had arrived when the prison doors should be opened, and the offenders discharged.

could not allow a subject of such importance to the maintenance of peace among the community to pass without making some few observations. There was a feeling among the working classes that there was one law for the rich, and another for the poor. He must confess that his own opinion was of late there had been a great exhibition of partiality with respect to the treatment of parties who had committed offences, and at several meetings which he had attended lately the course which had been adopted with respect to Lord Cardigan and the Earl of Waldegrave, had been compared with that which had been adopted with respect to William Lovett. What, he would ask, was Lovett's offence? Why, he had written a political libel for which he was punished, but in doing so, he had committed no offence that affected his moral character. What, on the other hand, had been the conduct of Lord Waldegrave? Why, he had been convicted of a brutal assault on a policeman, by which he was greatly injured, and his life for some time despaired of. It was true that Lord Waldegrave was punished for this, but what was the amount of the punishment? Why Lovett, who had committed no moral offence, was confined for a year in one of the most stringent and strict gaols in the country; while Lord Waldegrave was only confined in one of the outer wards of the Queen's Bench, where he could enjoy every luxury, and receive and see his friends. The only inconvenience he was subject to, was not being able to drive a cabriolet during the present fine weather, or go to the Derby. The hon. Gentleman had said that these parties should not have adopted the agitation they did, but that they should have applied to their representatives in the House of Commons. That was the chief complaint, but they had no representatives; and the only resource which they had, was to agitate, in order to make converts to their principles. What harm, he would ask, could it do to liberate these thirty-three men? The Chartists were not now agitating; there was no danger of outbreaks in Manchester or Birmingham; and, therefore, what harm could result from such an act of grace on the part of the Crown? He begged of the House not hastily to dismiss this petition from its consideration.

denied that the petition had been received with levity by the Members of that House. He believed there were many who would object to go to the whole extent of the demands made in that petition; but it would be most unfair to suppose that the Members of that House were indifferent to the prayers of 1,500,000 of their fellow subjects. It appeared to him that the people having been shown that they could not recklessly set the law at defiance, some mitigation of the punishment of these men might now take place. He thought another reason for agreeing to the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury, was, the great disproportion of the punishment to the offence. It was a sufficient justification of the assertion that was made in many quarters, that there was one measure of justice meted out to the Peer, and another to the poor man; and he could not help referring to the case of the Earl of Waldegrave, who was suffering a trifling imprisonment for what a man had a short time previously been sentenced to seven years' transportation. He trusted much to the returning good sense of the Chartists, and even if the hon. Member did not press his motion to a divison, he was satisfied that the discussion would be productive of much good. He believed that these men were beginning to see the folly and absurdity of their conduct, and he hoped they would see no more of it, any more than of the unnatural coalition that had lately taken place between the Chartists and the Tories. He should give his cordial support to the motion.

thought the present was not the time to discuss the conduct of the Chartists, but what they were to take into consideration was, whether, as had been urged by the hon. Member who had preceded him, the punishment of these unfortunate men had not been greatly disproportioned to their offence. He believed much of the severity exercised towards these men arose from the unfounded apprehensions which then filled the public minds, and which subsequent events had shown to be completely unfounded. He sincerely trusted that the Government would see the justice and expediency of re-considering the case of these men who still remained in confinement, and confer a boon upon the millions of that country by restoring them to liberty.

observed that a vast number of the Chartist prisoners had been treated in a way formerly unknown to the law. Political offenders only a few years since were never treated with so much severity. He called upon the Government therefore, to shorten the confinement of those who were now in prison.

said, that as political offenders had within the last three or four years been treated in an almost unprecedented manner, he thought the Government might fairly exercise the leniency desired by the petitioners. He wondered much at the silence of Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House in this discussion, knowing well that one favourable word from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth would be of immense importance towards the alteration of the sufferings of those men who had been imprisoned without ever having intended any violation of the laws of the country. The hon. Member, the Under Secretary of State, had alluded to the manner in which the working classes could appeal to their representatives. They had no representatives. It was that circumstance that rendered their minds so feverish and restless—it was that circumstance that made them so discontented, and so justly discontented. He did not blame them for this. On the contrary, he thought that they ought to be discontented until they were fairly represented—they would be unworthy the name they bore if they did not claim the right to be represented. What was the consequence of their not being so? We made the laws easy for ourselves, but heavy for them. Was the poor man tried by his equals? Whoever thought so, he would ask him to look at the special jury system. His hon. colleague did not seek for the liberation of Frost, Williams, and Jones; he merely sought the liberation of those persons confined in England. The terms of his motion were, that her Majesty would be "graciously pleased to take into her merciful consideration the cases of all persons confined in England and Wales for political offences." He did not move for their immediate discharge. The meaning of the motion was merely that their cases might be taken into consideration. That was a motion to which every Member of the House except the Members of Government might agree, and he thought it unseemly in Government to oppose a motion of so unostentatious a character. By recording their sentiments in favour of the motion, they would be doing a great deal to produce satisfaction in the public mind, and it really appeared to him that there were no grounds whatever for any Member of that House voting against the motion.

did not think that the hon. Member had any right to complain of his silence on this or on any other question. He did not think that he could be charged with evading the difficulties of any subject brought before the House, and he felt that he owed them an apology rather for the frequency with which he expressed his opinion than for remaining silent. On all questions he had never withheld his opinions from the House, and on the present occasion, he would not follow the course of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, nor put such a shallow construction on the motion as he had done. He was certain that the colleague of the hon. Member would have the manliness to repudiate that construction. That hon. Gentleman said that he thought the time had arrived when the political offenders detained in custody ought to be discharged. Other hon. Members had also argued the question fairly. They had said that the case of these prisoners was entitled to the consideration of the Crown, with the view of their being discharged. That was the intention of the motion. Do not let the House, therefore, deceive the public by saying that the object of the petitioners was merely to recommend the case of these offenders to the deliberate consideration of the Crown. The object was, if the motion was carried, to obtain from the Crowd, through the interference of the House of Commons, a remission of the sentences of these prisoners. Now, it was the duty of the Crown to consider all cases of that sort, and to show lenity and indulgence in in those particular cases where there were grounds for doing so. But a motion of the House of Commons, asking the Crown to take a particular case into its consideration, meant nothing more nor less than that the time had come when a pardon might be safely granted. He meant to act in the present case in conformity with those principles on which he had always acted when he was Secretary of State, He thought that the consideration of those cases ought, consistently to be left with the Crown—exclusively with the Crown. He thought it was a dangerous thing for a popular assembly to establish a precedent which might fetter the discretion and judgment of the Crown, by expressing any recommendation on such subjects. He thought that the bounds of the constitution had clearly separated the functions of the House of Commons from those of the Crown. He recollected a similar motion was made for the liberation of Mr. Hunt from Winchester gaol, when he was Secretary of State. On that occasion, as Secretary of State, he claimed the right of exercising the prerogative of the Crown, considering that while the interference of the House of Commons ought never to prevent him from doing what was just, he at the same time felt that in the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown he ought not to be influenced by any opinion which the House of Commons might express. It was, therefore, on constitutional grounds, and from his unwillingness to establish a dangerous precedent, that he would, acting in conformity with his former opinions, oppose the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He would oppose no obstacle whatever to the consideration of the cases of these prisoners by the Crown. It was the duty of the advisers of the Crown to consider the effect which a remission of punishment might have on the public mind. He trusted that the advisers of the Crown would never be influenced in such cases by a desire for popularity, but that they would bear in mind the permanent interests of society. He hoped the House would recollect the painful duty imposed on the Crown in such cases. It was the Crown, and not the House of Commons, which had the opportunity of ascertaining the state of the public mind, and the grounds on which such cases were, or were not, entitled to its consideration. He thought that they would be placing the Crown in an unfair, unconstitutional, and in an unjust position, if they, a popular assembly, claimed the right of interfering in cases which properly came under the prerogative of the Crown, and of the Crown alone. A popular assembly, he felt quite certain, would never ask for the infliction of punishment. It would always be in favour of a remission of punishments, and he repeated that he thought they would establish a dangerous precedent if they consented to the motion then before the House. He had stated fairly his opinion on this subject, and while he felt bound to oppose the motion, he, at the same time did not wish to throw any obstacles in the way of these cases being considered by the Crown.

could not give a silent vote on this question. He perfectly agreed in the general principle laid down by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, but he thought that this was a case in which the House might digress from the usual rule, and for that reason he would vote for the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury. Some of the inhabitants of the town which he had the honour to represent had presented a petition to the House, in which they expressed their desire that one of those offenders should become a candidate to represent that town in Parliament; and as he was particularly desirous that nothing should interfere with the expression of their opinions, he had great pleasure in supporting the motion of his hon. Friend.

said, he thought it an additional reason in favour of this motion, that the only two Members of that House who had expressed an opinion against it, the hon. Under-Secretary for the Home Department, and the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), had not addressed themselves to the merits of the case, but had entirely defended the course they took on some rather fine-drawn doctrines of constitutional law. He would again draw their attention to the fact that this petition was signed by upwards of a million of their fellow-subjects, and of that class who were not represented in that House. They did not come forward praying for an extension of privileges for themselves, but merely to solicit the alleviation of the punishment of those misguided persons who still remain in the prisons of this country for political offences. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the Government would take a favourable view of their case.

wished to say a few words in reference to the state of those districts in Wales in which the recent disturbances occurred. He was called on at the time to take an active part in quelling those disturbances; and, being intimately acquainted with the country, he must say he had never known it so tranquil and quiet as it was at the present moment. He must also say, that notwithstanding the present reduction of wages, the stagnation of business, and the depressed state of the iron trade, there was not the least agitation among the working people; and he thought the period had arrived when a merciful consideration ought to be bestowed to poor persons confined in England and Wales. The hon. Under-Secretary of State had admitted that the whole country was in a state of tranquillity, and as he could conceive no more auspicious time, he hoped the House would support the motion. He was glad to say that parties out of doors would have the satisfaction of knowing that no expression of opinion against the merciful consideration of these persons had been given in that House.

who rose amid loud cries of "Divide," said, he thought the House having spent so many days in debates of less importance, might allow five minutes to any hon. Member who wished to state his opinion on this subject. It was admitted that in one case, whatever might be the opinion as to the constitutional mode of procedure, the expression of an opinion by that House had led to a mitigation of the punishment, and he could not but think that any expression of an opinion by that House would have its due weight with the Crown. He saw no impropriety in the House interfering. It was the constitutional mode in which the people were entitled to represent their grievances to the Crown. He had strong hopes that they would be successful in the present case, and he was encouraged in this hope from the speech of the hon. Under-Secretary of State, which was filled with humane expressions and vindications of clemency. With respect to the Chartists he thought they had not done their duty by them. If hon. Gentlemen had attended more their general meetings and, evinced more sympathy with the interests of that class, he thought the public would not have heard so much of the disaffection which existed among them towards that House.

Although he represented a large constituency, consisting in no small degree of the working classes in the same sphere of life as these political offenders, yet he felt bound to vote against the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbuty. He could not consider the objections taken by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth as mere matter of official etiquette. He thought it would be dangerous for the House to interfere with the prerogative of the Crown, and he could not depart from a great constitutional principle, however much he felt for the situation of these misled individuals, who, in his opinion, had been more sinned against, than sinning. However much they had been led into agitation by persons who had since deserted them, he could not consent to go beyond the principles of the constitution, which separated the authority of the House of Commons from the prerogative of the Crown.

certainly could conceive cases which might form an exception to the general rule laid down by the right hon. Baronet opposite. The question of Sir Manasseh Lopez, which he (Lord J. Russell) had brought forward some years ago, was an exception to the general rule. On that occasion he withdrew his motion, after having elicited a statement from Lord Castlereagh, then Secretary of State, that the motion would not be any obstacle in the remission of as much of the sentence as the advisers of the Crown should deem meet. In regard to the present motion, he felt that it interposed great difficulties in the way of these cases being considered by the Crown Petitions, praying for mercy in the mitigation of the sentences of the law, ought to be directed to the Crown, and not to the House of Commons. He had felt the difficulty he had alluded to in a very great degree some years ago, when he first filled the office of Secretary of State, in regard to the sentence which had been passed in the case of the Dorchester labourers. It appeared to him on reviewing that case that though he felt it to be his duty at the time to advise a remission of the sentence, he also felt the great difficulties in the way of doing so, in consequence of the motion which had been made on the subject in the House of Commons. He was obliged to declare that if that motion had been carried, he could not have given the advice which he had done; yet, having given that advice, he felt that considerable evil had been produced by the remission not appearing to be the spontaneous act of the Crown; and also, in consequence of the triumphant boastings then made of the interference of the House of Commons. He, therefore, advised the hon. Member who made this motion, to consider that those who were charged with the responsibility of advising the Crown, instead of feeling themselves more at liberty from an expression of the sentiments of the House of Commons, would really feel themselves more restricted in any advice which they might give, and instead of the remission of the punishment having the proper and natural effect of an act of mercy in preventing men again violating the law, it might, on the contrary, embolden them to commit other offences, from the belief that there were individuals or parties in the House of Commons disposed to take up their case—it would lead them to look for the remission of a sentence, not to the Crown, the natural and constitutional source, but to a popular body, to whom the prerogative of mercy did not belong. Entertaining these sentiments, and without saying one word as to the particular cases noticed by the hon. Under Secretary of State, he would, on the general principle he had stated, vote against the motion.

begged his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury to reflect on the nature of the motion, and not to press the House under the circumstances, to a division. His hon. Friend had seen the imputations to which the motion gave rise; they were told it was not a motion honestly brought forward, but had reference to questions out of doors. The best answer, however, to that imputation, into which he was sorry to find that the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool had fallen, was, that the petition had been in preparation for many months, and that it had emanated at a time when no one entertained the remotest idea of a dissolution. His opinion was, that if his hon. Friend had been desirous of submitting his motion to the House at the moment most embarrassing to Ministers he would have chosen the present, because it was impossible for any Government, whatever their feelings might be, to concur in it without exposing themselves to the imputation of taking such a course for the purpose of gaining popularity out of doors. Let them discard those unworthy considerations, and look solely to the merits of the case; and on that subject he should say he differed entirely from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, because he did think there were circumstances in case which not only warranted, but in the some degree called for the interference of the House. Political crimes were very undefined in their nature; and although he did not censure either the Judges, the Juries, or the Government under whom the late prosecutions had taken place, he did feel that some of those political offenders had been treated with great severity. He admitted, however, that in other instances the grievous nature of the crime committed merited the severest punishment. There could be no doubt, too, but it was necessary at the time these prosecutions had been begun, to take strong measures for the peace of the community. Still he was persuaded, that many of those parties now in confinement had more than expiated the offences they had committed. He was at the same time of opinion, that after the explanations which had been given by the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, his hon. Friend might injure his own cause by proceeding to a division.

disclaimed throwing any imputation on the hon. Gentleman as to the motive which induced him to bring forward his motion. All he did was to advert to to what he conceived might be said, out of doors, as to the intention, at all events, as to the effect of a motion of this description at this particular moment.

in reply, said, that if the noble Lord had imputed to him that the motion was brought forward for election purposes, he could have readily removed that impression by assuring him and the House that this petition was in circulation and receiving signatures between two and three months ago. His object was to prevail upon the House to address her Majesty to discharge all persons committed for political offences at home; he therefore had a right to complain of his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for mixing up Frost's case and the other cases where the parties had been transported with the present motion. In reply to the appeal which the hon. Member for Sheffield had made to him not to press the motion to a division, he believed, that he should be betraying his duty to those whom he represented on this occasion, if he did not call for an expression of the opinion of the House. He had brought the motion forward in no hostile spirit against the Government, or the hon. Gentleman on the opposition side of the House. He only wished, that the House could be unanimous upon the subject, and would declare that the case of these individuals should be considered with a view to their discharge. He should then be too happy to withdraw his motion; but as he had no assurance of that act of amnesty, which was so much wished by thousands of their countrymen, being granted, unless an address were carried to the Throne he felt bound to go to a division.

The House divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 58. And the numbers being equal, Mr. Speaker stated, that he considered that the vote, if carried, would interfere with the prerogative of the Crown, and therefore declared himself with the Noes.

List of the AYES.

Aglionby, H. A.Brotherton, J.
Barnard, E. G.Buller, C.
Berkeley, hon. H.Bulwer, Sir L.
Bewes, T.Busfield, W.
Bridgeman, H.Butler, hon. C.
Brodie, W. B.Callaghan, D.

Collier, J.O'Connell, M. J.
Collins, W.Pechell, Captain
Currie, R.Protheroe, E.
Dennistoun, J.Pryme, G.
Duke, Sir J.Roche, E. B.
Easthope, J.Rundle, J.
Ellis, W.Salwey, Colonel
Evans, Sir De L.Scholefield, J.
Ewart, W.Sinclair, Sir G.
Fielden, J.Stewart, J.
Gillon, W. D.Strickland, Sir G.
Greg, R. H.Talfourd, Mr. Serj.
Hall, Sir B.Thornely, T.
Hawes, B.Villiers, hon. C. P.
Hector, C. J.Wakley, T.
Hindley, C.Walter, J.
Humphery, J.Warburton, H.
Jones, J.Ward, H. G.
Langdale, hon. C.White, A.
Leader, J. T.Williams, W,
Lushington, C.Wood, B.
Molesworth, Sir W.
Muntz, G. F.TELLERS.
Muskett, G. A.Duncombe, T.
O'Brien, C.Hume, J.

List of the NOES.

Adam, AdmiralKnight, H. G.
Antrobus, E.Lucas, E.
Baring, rt. hn. F. T.Macaulay. rt. hn. T. B.
Bentinck, Lord G.Mackenzie, T.
Bethell, R.Marsland, T.
Broadley, H.Maule, hon. F.
Bruce, C. L. C.Morpeth, Viscount
Buller, Sir J. Y.Palmer, G.
Clay, W.Palmerston, Viscount
Clerk, Sir G.Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Clive, hon. R. H.Pigot, rt. hn. D.
Darby, G.Plumptre, J. P.
Denison, W. J.Pusey, P.
Elliot, hon. J. E.Richards, R.
Estcourt, T.Rose, rt. hn. Sir G.
Fort, J.Russell, Lord J.
Fremantle, Sir T.Rutherfurd, rt. hn. A.
Goulburn, rt. hn. H.Sandon, Viscount
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.Sibthorp, Colonel
Greene, T.Slaney, R. A.
Greig, D.Smyth, Sir G. H.
Grosvenor, Lord R.Stuart, W. V.
Halford, H.Teignmouth, Lord
Harcourt, G. G.Wilde, Sir T.
Herries, rt. hn. J. C.Wood, C.
Howard, hn. C.W.G.Wood, Colonel
Hurt, F.Wyse, T.
Inglis, Sir R. H.
Jackson, Mr. Serj.TELLERS.
Jermyn, EarlParker, J.
Kemble, H.Stanley, hon. E. J.

Motion negatived.