Front Page Titles (by Subject) SEDITIOUS MEETINGS PREVENTION BILL 6 December 1819 - The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence
SEDITIOUS MEETINGS PREVENTION BILL 6 December 1819 - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 1815-1823.
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First published by Cambridge University Press in 1951. Copyright 1951, 1952, 1955, 1973 by the Royal Economic Society. This edition of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., under license from the Royal Economic Society.
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SEDITIOUS MEETINGS PREVENTION BILL
6 December 1819
Parliament was called together in order to consider a series of measures (the Six Acts) for counteracting and suppressing ‘the seditious practices so long prevalent in the manufacturing districts of the country’ (speech of the Prince Regent on the opening of the session, 23 November 1819). Lord Castlereagh introduced the first of these measures, the Seditious Meetings Prevention Bill, on 29 November. It was read a second time on 2 December (when Ricardo voted No, with the minority). On 6 December the bill was again considered.
Mr. Ricardo said, he was anxious very briefly to express his opinion on this subject. He thought that, in the course of this discussion, sufficient attention had not been given to the importance of the right to be curtailed. If the people’s right of meeting and petitioning consisted only in the right of meeting to petition for the removal of grievances, it was not of so much importance, and the curtailment of it was not of such serious interest. But the right was, a right of meeting in such numbers, and showing such a front to ministers as would afford a hope that bad measures would be abandoned, and that public opinion would be respected. It might be compared, in this view, with the right of that House to address the Crown. If the right of that House consisted in passing resolutions only, and if they could not follow up their resolutions by refusing the supplies, and by calling up a spirit of resistance in the country, the Crown could despise their interference. It was the same with the right of the people to petition. If they could not meet in such numbers as to make them be respected, their petitions would have no effect. At the same time, he admitted, that those meetings were attended with very great inconvenience. It could not be denied that circumstances might arise when the government should be fairly administered, and yet distress might arise from causes which the government could not control, and wicked and designing men might produce a great degree of mischief; it did not appear to him that such meetings were the sort of check which ought to exist in a well-administered government; but it was necessary to have some check, because if they left men to govern without any control in the people, the consequence would be despotism. The check which he would give, could be established only by a reform of parliament. Then, instead of petitioning, and from the worst part of the people perhaps, being the check, that House would become the best check which any government could have, and with that check the people would be perfectly satisfied. He had read with surprise the abhorrence of radical reform expressed by several members of that House. He believed there were among the advocates of that measure, designing and wicked men. But he also knew that there was a great number of very honest men who believed universal suffrage and annual parliaments were the only means of protecting the rights of the people, and establishing an adequate check upon government. He had the same object as they professed to have in view; but he thought that suffrage far from universal would effect that object, and form a sufficient check. He therefore thought it would be madness to attempt a reform to that extent, when a less extensive reform would be sufficient.
On 13 December the bill was read a third time and passed; in the division (for, 313; against, 95) Ricardo voted against the bill.