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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 379 Parliament upon charges of undue appropriation. He was eminently successful in the vindication of Lord Clive, and obtained a verdict of acquittal. His appearance in the House of Lords, as one of the counsel in the great Douglas cause, tended greatly to increase his professional reputation, and secured for him the friendship of Lords Bute and Mansfield. Shortly after the decision of this appeal, Mr. Wedderburn was brought into Parliament for the Tnverary district of burghs, which he represented for several years; and, in 1774, having been chosen for two English boroughs, he became member for Oakhampton. In the House of Commons he proved himself an able debater,’ and was one of the chief defenders of the Grafton administration, in opposition to Burke, who had thrown all the force of his eloquence into the Rockingham interest. The ready talent and acute and logical reasoning of Wedderburn were fully appreciated by the party with which he witg associated. His rise was accordingly rapid. In 1771 he was promoted to the office of Solicitor-General; and in 17 7 3 succeeded Thurlow as Attorney-General. While holding this appointment in 1774, he appeared, in opposition to the famous Dr. Franklin, before the Privy Council in favour of the Governors of Massachusetts Bay, whom the Americans, and Franklin, as their representative, were petitioning to depose. The speech of Wedderburn before the Council has been censured for its “ sweeping bitterness ” towards the philosopher ;’ but it is at the same time an excellent specimen of his eloquence, and quite in keeping with his known sentiments relative to the unhappy American disputes. Much praise is conceded to the Attorney-General for the promptness and decision of character which he manifested during the memorable riots in London of 1780. All the municipal force of the city had been overpowered, and the capital was in the hands of a lawless mob. In this emergency the King summoned a meeting of the Privy Council; and the question was-whether military force could be constitutionally employed without the delay and forms necessary in common cases of riot? Wedderburn at once gave his opinion in the affirmative. “ Is that your declaration as Attorney-General’?” inquired the King. “Yes, Sire, decidedly so.” “Then let it so be,” said his Majesty. Wedderburn instantly drew up the order of Council accordingly, and in a few hours the riots were quelled, and the capital, already partially in flames, saved from inevitable destruction. Immediately after this event Mr. Wedderburn was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in the room of Lord Walsingham, and created a Peer by the title of Baron Loughborough of Loughborough, in the county of Leicester. In the capacity of Chief Justice his lordship presided at the trial of the rioters, of whom twenty-six were condemned and executed. His charge to the jurors on this occasion has been eulogised by some as replete with “reasoned It is singular that lawyers usually are very ineffective in the House of Commons. Of this Lord Erskmwne of the best pleaders of his time-was a signal instance. Within our own period, the only barristers who have been successful a8 parliamentary orators, are Sir William Follett, Sergeant Jackson, and Mr. Frederick Shaw.
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380 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. eloquence;” while others beheld in it an extent and latitude of principle inconsistent with the letter of the law. “ The precipitate and indiscriminate severity of the sentences passed in his judicial capacity, by this magistrate, upon .the rioters,’’ says one writer, “far exceeded anything known in this country since the days of Judge Jefferies; such, indeed; as left the memory of these transactions impressed upon the public mind in indelible characters of blood.” This to a certain extent may be true; but while we consider the amount of punishment, the magnitude of the crime ought not to be overlooked. If the conduct of the Chief Justice is liable to any degree of censure in this instance, it must be admitted, even by the most inveterate of his political adversaries, that, on the bench, his decisions were characterised by an uprigh,tness and independence sufficiently illustrative of his integrity, and the deep veneration in which he held the liberty of the subject. We may instance a case of false imprisonment-Burgess w. Addington (the former, an obscure publican ; the latter, one of the Justices of Bow Street.) In palliation of the conduct of Justice Addington, it was contended that it was the usual practice to commit for further examination, owing to the extent of business which the Justice had to transact. Lord Loughborough expressed himself with great energy and warmth :- ‘‘ The law,” said his lordship, “would not endure such practices. It was an abominable practice, when men were taken up only on swpcion, to commit them to gaol and load them with irons, and this before any evidence was given against them. Here the commitment stated no offence, but a suspicion of an offence ; and a man was thrown into gaol, for five days, for the purpose of further examination, because the magistrate had not lime to do justice. It was a mode of proceeding pregnant with all the evils of an ezpost facto law ; the constitution abhorred it ; and from him it should ever meet with reprobation. He knew the abominable purposes to which such proceedings might be perverted. No man was nafe if justices were permitted to keep back evidence on the part of the accused. It was not in his power to punish the Justice, that authority lay with another court ; but he would not allow such a defence to be set up before him as a legal one. The commitment stated a lie ; for, though there had been an accusation upon suspicion, there had been no information taken upon oath. Men who had not time to do justice should not dare to act BS magistrates. This man should not be permitted to act It was a practice from which more evil must result than could be cured even by the suppression of offences. The purpose of committing for further examination, was clearly to increase the business of the office at the expense of men’s characters, and every valuable privilege and consideration.”’ The liberty of the subject was in question. In 1783 Lord Loughborough formed one of the short-lived Coalition Ministry, by being appointed First Commissioner of the Great Seal. The fate of this administration is well known ; and, from the period of its disruption, which speedily followed that of its formation, his lordship remained out of office till 1793. In the course of the ten years which intervened, the important question of the Regency had been agitated with all the zeal of contending factions, Lord Loughborough at once espoused the cause of the Prince of Wales ; and from his knowledge of law and the constitution, gave a weight and authority to that side of the question which all the eloquence of Pitt, and sound sterling The jury gave the plaintiff thee hundred pou%ds damgm.
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