Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/29

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Lord Chatham as an Orator

It was on this occasion that Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, made his oracular declaration that he had never delivered any opinion upon the legality of the proceedings of the House of Commons on the Middlesex election. 'He had locked it up in his own breast, and it should die with him.' He strongly objected to Chatham's amendment, which was negatived by an overwhelming majority, the Address to the King being carried by 203 to 36.

It was in the course of this debate that, pleading for the liberty of the citizen to a very unpropitious audience, Chatham gave utterance to some of his best-remembered sayings.

'It is to your ancestors, my Lords, it is to the English Barons that we are indebted for the laws and constitution we possess. Their virtues were rude and uncultivated, but they were great and sincere. Their understandings were as little polished as their manners, but they had hearts to distinguish right from wrong. They had heads to distinguish truth from falsehood. They understood the rights of humanity, and they had spirit to maintain them. My Lords, I think that history has not done justice to their conduct, when they obtained from their Sovereign that great acknowledgement of national rights contained in Magna Charta. They did not confine it to themselves alone, but delivered it as a common blessing to the whole people.

'They did not say, "These are the rights of the great Barons," or "These are the rights of the great Prelates". No, my Lords, they said, in the simple Latin of the times, Nullus liber homo, and provided as carefully for the meanest subject as for the greatest.

'These are uncouth words, and sound but poorly in the ears of scholars, neither are they addressed to the criticism of scholars, but to the hearts of freemen. These three words, Nullus liber homo, have a meaning which