of his own creatures to decide the fate of men whom he regarded as his mortal enemies. And could any thing be more absurd than that a nobleman accused of high treason should be entitled to be tried by the whole body of his peers if his indictment happened to be brought into the House of Lords the minute before a prorogation, but that, if the indictment arrived a minute after the prorogation, he should be at the mercy of a small junto named by the very authority which prosecuted him? That any thing could have been said on the other side seems strange; but those who managed the conference for the Commons were not ordinary men, and seem on this occasion to have put forth all their powers. Conspicuous among them was Charles Montague, who was rapidly attaining a foremost rank among the orators of that age. To him the lead seems on this occasion to have been left; and to his pen we owe an account of the discussion, which gives a very high notion of his talents for debate. "We have framed"--such was in substance his reasoning,--"we have framed a law which has in it nothing exclusive, a law which will be a blessing to every class, from the highest to the lowest. The new securities, which we propose to give to innocence oppressed by power, are common between the premier peer and the humblest day labourer. The clause which establishes a time of limitation for prosecutions protects us all alike. To every Englishman accused of the highest crime against the state, whatever be his rank, we give the privilege of seeing his indictment, the privilege of being defended by counsel, the privilege of having his witnesses summoned by writ of subpoena and sworn on the Holy Gospels. Such is the bill which we sent up to your Lordships; and you return it to us with a clause of which the effect is to give certain advantages to your noble order at the expense of the ancient prerogatives of the Crown. Surely before we consent to take away from the King any power which his predecessors have possessed for ages, and to give it to your Lordships, we ought to be satisfied that you are more likely to use it well than he. Something we must risk; somebody we must trust; and; since we are forced, much against our will, to institute what is necessarily an invidious comparison,
Page:History of England (Macaulay) Vol 4.djvu/250
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