BLTC Press Titles


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The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Vanity Fair

William Thackery


The speech of Lord Erskine in the House of Lords (the 8th of March, 1808) on moving resolutions against the legality of the Orders in Council

by Baron Thomas Erskine Erskine

Excerpt:

When the matter is therefore brought to this direct issue—i. e. whether the late Orders in Council are justified by, or contrary to, the law of nations, and the law of the land, and when, as a Peer of the realm, I arraign them in this great public council as a violation of both, can it possibly be any answer to such charges, that a former Administration of the King's Government was guilty of a similar violation? Can we, sitting here as statesmen representing the whole British people, so abuse their interests and insult their feelings in such distressing and perilous times?

If indeed the breach of the law had been established or admitted, and the question before us were the degree of blame imputable to Ministers for having so mistaken the public interests and the law, it might deserve consideration whether they had been led into such error by the conduct of their predecessors, and the faith reposed in their administration. But when the question is thus brought to a Precise Legal Issue, in which Ministers and their predecessors are not the contending^ parties: but

where the rights of the whole British empire, and of all nations, are to be settled by Parliament, every man, I should think, must admit how inadmissible, or rather how perfectly frivolous, such an argument must be. If, for instance, the question were, what punishment I, who have the honour of addressing your Lordships, should receive from a court of justice, whose judgment was discretionary, for an offence against the law, of which I had been convicted, every topic would undoubtedly be relevant to shew that my mind was innocent, and that I had offended from ignorance of my duty: but if the question only were, whether the law had or had not been broken, would it be relevant that I had taken the advice of the ablest counsel, who had misled me, or that I had even relied upon a judicial decision, which had afterwards been determined to be erroneous? I must therefore earnestly entreat your Lordships to entertain the question like statesmen, in a case where the interests of your country and of the world are so deeply involved in the decision. If the Resolutions, which I am about to submit to your Lordships, are unfounded or erroneous, I shall most humbly and sincerely defer to the judgment of the

House which rejects them; but if, as formerly, you fly altogether from the question, I shall then say, and the world will say with me, that no answer could be given to them.

I should enter upon the subject, my Lords, with no satisfaction, if I believed the evils of these Orders in Council to be irretrievable. I hope it is not my temper to be malignant; I think, indeed, that if I were accused before your Lordships of any act, which could only be ascribed to such a base and unworthy disposition, you would not very willingly condemn me. What satisfaction could I have in merely making out, that several noble persons had involved their country in difficulties that were irrecoverable? What satisfaction could I have in wounding and alienating the minds of those, whom upon other accounts I esteem, and whose regard I must wish to cultivate in private life? My Lords, I disavow most solemnly any such motive or purpose: I am convinced that it is not too late to retrace the false steps that have been taken; and if it can be shewn, by any proceeding directed to such object, that the late Ministers have also violated the law of nations, do not let the one breach of them be justified by the other:

Speaking for all ray colleagues who surround me, as well as for myself, I say, if that case can be established, we must retrace our steps together. Let us concur, my Lords, in serving—serving do I say! let us concur in saving our country.

My Lords, the two first Resolutions, Which I shall now read, I may assume without detaining the House by any argument upon the subject, because my noble and learned* Friend upon the woolsack distinctly disclaimed on a former occasion (I was quite sure that he would), all intention of arguing for any power in the Crown, to suspend or dispense with the laws, or of justifying, upon any such principle, the advice of the Privy Council, by which the Orders complained of were issued.


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