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Political contentions between the Ministerial and Opposition parties in England,
The Lord Mayor of London, Crosby, and Alderman Oliver are committed to the Tower, by order of the Commons—The Society of the Bill of Rights vote their thanks to Crosby and Oliver, and an Address to them—Lee is appointed to draught the Address and prepares it-It is accepted and published— The Address—Its style, &c.—It is admired-He is appointed Colonial Agent of Massachusetts, in case of the death or absence of Dr. Franklin-Is retained by the Assembly of that Province to support their Petition to the King, to remove the Governor and Lieut. Governor-Dr. Franklin's trial before the King and Council, respecting the pub. lication of certain letters on the return of Doctor Franklin, he becomes the Agent for the Province—Remains of a history of the Revolution, by Mr. Leem His services to the Province of Massachusetts, and the generous conduct of its Assembly–He becomes a friend and correspondent of Samuel Adams—The character of their correspondence—Letter of Dr. Rush-Letter on American affairs of Lee, to his brother in Virginia—Anecdote of Lee and Wedderburne—The Petition to the King and the Addresses of the first Congress are sent to Lee, to be presented and published-Letter of Burke on this subject-Anecdotes and letters of Lee respecting the reception of these Papers, by the King and People of England—Letter of the second Congress to Lee and Penn, with another Address The case of Mr. Lovell—His letter to Mr. Lee-Their subsequent friendship and correspondence.
DURING the years 1770 and '71, the political contentions between the ministry and the opposition were very violent. This was particularly the case in the city of London. A messenger of the house of commons arrested a printer, a citizen of London, by order of the commons, commanding him to appear at their bar, for having printed some debates of the house which they declared to be a violation of the privileges of parliament. The opposition contended, that no constitutional privilege justified the warrant, under which the messenger had arrested the printer. This incident gave rise to warm discussions in the papers at the time, and many debates in parliament. The messenger of the commons was taken into custody by a constable, who carried him before the lord mayor. The case was heard by the lord mayor, and aldermen Wilkes and Oliver, who discharged 'the printer,
and signed a commitment of the messenger, for an assault and false imprisonment. This proceeding so exasperated the commons, that they summoned the aldermen to appear at the bar of the house, to answer for their conduct. Wilkes refused to obey the summons; but the lord mayor and alderman Oliver attended, and justified their proceeding. They were committed to the tower for contumacy. Mr. Crosby, the lord mayor, upon hearing the order for his commitment, addressed the speaker in terms of firm and manly remonstrance against this arbitrary step, and concluded with this bold and patriotic declaration :—“I will through life continue to obey the dictates of honour and conscience; to support, to the utmost of my power, every part of the constitution of this kingdom; and the event I shall always leave to heaven; at all times, ready to meet my fate.”
This measure of the commons excited a strong sentiment of indignation throughout the nation. The society of the supporters of the Bill of Rights passed resolutions against the outrage committed upon the lord mayor and the alderman, and voted an address of thanks to these magistrates, warmly approving of their firmness in having resisted the illegal conduct of the commons.
Mr. Lee was appointed to write the address, which being adopted, and much admired, was published by the livery of London. It is here inserted, and is taken from his original MS. draught.
“The Members of the Bill of Rights, impressed with the deepest respect and gratitude for the manly support you have given to the law of the land, and the liberties of the nation, in committing a messenger of the house of commons, for an assault on a citizen of London, have deputed us to convey to you their thanks and approbation of your conduct.
When privilege is at variance with the law of the land and the rights of the people, no honest man can hesitate to determine against it. Our ancestors held as a maxim, that he who does not favour liberty, is impious and cruel.*
Mr. Lee has quoted in his MS. the maxim in Latin " Libertati, qui non favet, impius et crudelis judicjundus.” Fortescue.-Ld. Coke.
Had there been only a doubt, therefore, of the constitutional and legal tendency of the proceeding you opposed, that doubt would have justified your opposition. The process which deprives a freeman of his liberty, ought to be clear and unquestionable. But this proceeding was plainly arbitrary, and subversive of the general liberty of the subject, declared in Magna Charta and other venerable statutes, as well as of the chartered rights of the city of London, most solemnly confirmed by act of parliament, You therefore, gentlemen, when you upheld the law, acted with a spirit and integrity becoming the first magistrates of this great city, which has ever distinguished itself in patronizing liberty.
We have been told, that usage will justify this exercise of privilege. But it is a maxim of the common law, the groundwork of our constitution, that "usage against reason is an usurpation.”* Now it is manifestly against reason, that the people should be subject to be deprived of their liberty, at the arbitrary and capricious will of an assembly of their own creation; and that creation, too, for the very purpose of preserving liberty.
The principles of the law of England are always favourable to the personal liberty of the subject. If the powers of the house of commons are not exactly defined by law, still they must be limited by the principles of it, and by the reason of the case in which they are exercised. To shut up from the people, who have an essential and unalienable right to inquire into the conduct of their representatives, all knowledge of their proceedings, is against reason, a flagrant violation of right, and stamps an alarming suspicion on those whose actions are thus carefully covered with darkness. A house of commons, privileged against the people, to trample on the law, is a manifest and monstrous absurdity. They were vested with privilege to defend them in the due exercise of their functions, from the crown and its ministers. And we yet hope to see,
* Consuetudo contra rationem, potius usurpatio, quam consuetudo appellari debet.-Ld. Coke.
† Angliæ jura, in omni casu, libertati dant favorem.--Fortescue.--Who does not admire and cherish the common law?
through the awakened virtue of the people, a house of commons, who will direct the powers trusted with them by the community, not against liberty, but to a severe and exemplary inquiry by whose advice it has happened, that the present reign, considering its duration and circumstances, has been arbitrary and unconstitutional beyond the worst example of former times. It is then, that the alarms of the people will be composed, their indignation will subside, and their confidence in their representatives and in government will be restored. They never can be supposed to have chosen deputies to be tyrants; that is, to have an arbitrary and unexaminable power over themselves. They acknowledge no absolute power over them but the law, and to that their representatives are equally subject.
It is in support of this, gentlemen, that you now suffer; and, next to vindicating the violated laws, we deem it your greatest happiness and honour to suffer nobly in their defence. The fabric of English liberty has been cemented by the blood of Englishmen; and should it be necessary, we trust there is yet patriotism enough, to furnish blood for its reparation.
To the Right Honourable Lord Mayor,
and Mr. Alderman Oliver."
The bold and strenuous part that Mr. Lee, for several years, had taken in opposition to the ministerial measures, against those particularly which affected the colonies, had rendered him popular in all of them. The character he had established as a writer and an advocate, had become known in the colonies. Hence, in the year 1770, he was appointed, by the assembly of Massachusetts, agent for that colony, in case of the absence or death of Dr. Franklin, who was then residing in London in that capacity. Dr. Franklin had been preceded in this honourable appointment by Dennis De Berdt, a highly respectable gentleman of London. Dr. Franklin continued in London until the spring of 1775. From the time of the appointment of Mr. Lee just mentioned, until the return of Dr. Franklin to America, when he became sole agent for the Massachusetts Assembly, he aided Dr. Franklin with his
advice and opinions, on the affairs of that colony. A close and warm intimacy sprang up, and continued, between these patriots, while they resided together in London. Their friendship was founded upon their private virtues, was nourished by similar patriotic motives, and was adorned and enlivened by scientific researches and acquirements. But their mutual political and scientific friends had to regret, at a subsequent period, their estrangement from each
other. The causes of the interruption of the friendship of two such men, are subjects not inappropriate to the designs and province of biography. They are stated therefore in another part of this memoir of Mr. Lee.
The mention of this honour done him by the assembly of Massachusetts, is made by Mr. Lee, in the remains of a sketch which he left behind him, of a history of the American revolution, which the reader will find in the Appendix, No. 2. He will there find the letter of thanks, addressed by him to that assembly; a letter, which an American reader will peruse with no ordinary interest. The reader will pardon a digression, which appears not to be improper here.
The author had understood from the family of Mr. Lee, that he had commenced, shortly before his death, a history of the American revolution ; of its political character, as well as of its military events. He has found among his MSS. some sheets of Memoirs of the American Revolution,” which, he says, he wrote “to aid in placing the history of the American revolution in its true light." He had, it seems, commenced the execution of a design, that would have produced a work of value and interest to his own and to future times. What part of this memoir remains will amply repay him who shall read it. The knowledge of the rise and earliest progress of our revolutionary struggle contained in it, will be gratifying to every intelligent mind, and important to our future historians; for every authentic, additional ray of light cast upon the events and genius of that great transaction, will reflect glory upon our nation, and en