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and excessive punishments prevent crimes, he asserts, as quoted by our French writer, that
"L' atracite des loix en empeche P execution.
"Lorsque la peine esteems ntesure, on est sou"vent oblige de lui prefer er I' impunite.
"La cause des tout les relachsmens vient de "/' impunite des crimes, et non de la moderation "des peines.,x
It is said by those who know Europe generally, that there are more thefts committed and punished annually in England than in all the other nations pat together. If this be so, there must be a cause or causes for such depravity in our common people. May not one be the deficiency of justice and morality in our national government, manifested in our oppressive con* duct to subjects, and unjust wars on our neighbours? View the long persisted in, unjust, monopolizing treatment of Ireland, at length acknowledged! View the plundering government exercised by .our merchants in the Indies; the confiscating war made upon the American colonies; and, to-say nothing of those upon France and Spain, view the late war upon Holland, which was seen by impartial Europe in no other light than that of a war of rapine and pillage; the hopes of an immense and easy prey being its only apparent, and probably its true and real motive and encouragement. Justice is as strictly due between neighbour nations as between neighbour citizens. A highwayman is as much a rob-i ber when he plunders in a gang, as when single; and a nation that makes an unjust war is only a
great gang. After employing your people Hi robbing the Dutch, is it strange that, being out of that employ by peace, they still continue robbing, and rob one another? Piraterie, as the French call it, or privateering is the universal bent of the English nation, at home and abroad, wherever settled. No less than seven hundred privateers were, it is said, commissioned in the last war! These were fitted out by merchants, to prey upon other merchants, who have never done them any injury. Is there probably any one of those privateering merchants of London, who were so ready to rob the merchants of Amsterdam, that would not as readily plunder another London merchant of the next street, if he could do it with the same impunity! The avidity, the alieni appetem is the same; it is the fear alone of the gallows that makes the difference. How then can a nation, which, among the honestest of its people, has so many thieves by inclination, and whose government encouraged and commissioned no less than seven hundred gangs of rob- bers; how can such a nation have the face to condemn the crime in individuals, and hang up twenty of them in a morning L It naturally puts one in mind of a Newgate anecdote: One of the prisoners complained, that in the night somebody had taken his buckles out of his shoes. "What the devil!" says another, " have we then thieves amongst us? It must not be suffered. Let us search out the rogue, and pump him to death."
There is, however, one late instance of an English merchant who will not profit by such ilfrgotten gain. He was, it seems, part owner of a ship, which the other owners thought fit to employ as a letter of marque, and which took a number of French prizes. The booty being shared, he has now an agent here enquiring, by an advertisement in the Gazette, for those who suffered the loss, in order to make them, as far as in him lies, restitution. This conscientious man is a Quaker. The Scotch presbyterians were formerly as tender; for there is still extant an ordinance of the town of Edinburgh, made soon after the reformation, " forbidding the purchase of prize goods, under pain of losing the freedom of the burgh for ever, with other punishtnents at the will of the magistrate; the practice of making prizes being contrary to a good conscience, and the rule of treating Christian brethren as we would wish to be treated; and such goods are not to be sold by any godly men within this burgh." The race of these godly men in Scotland is probably extinct, or their principles abandoned, since, as far as that nation had a hand in promoting the war against the colonies, prizes and confiscations are believed to have been a considerable motive.
It has been for some time a generally-received opinion, that a military man is not to enquire 'whether a war be just or unjust; he is to execute his orders. All princes who are disposed to become tyrants, must probably approve of this opinion, and be willing to establish it; but is it not a dangerous one? since, on that principle, if the tyrant commands his army to attack and destroy, not only an unoffending neighbour na* tion, but even his own subjects, the army is bound to obey. A negro slave, in our colonies, being commanded by his master to rob or murder a neighbour, or do any other immoral act, may refuse; and the magistrate will protect him in his refusal. The slavery then of a soldier is worse than that of a negro! A conscientious officer if not restrained by the apprehension of its being imputed to another cause, may indeed resign rather than be employed in an unjust war, but the private men are slaves for life, and they are perhaps incapable of judging for themselves. We can only lament their fate, and still more that of a sailor, who is often dragged by force from his honest occupation, and compelled to imbrue his hands in perhaps innocent blood. But methinks it well behoves merchants (men more enlightened by their education, and per* fectly free from any such force or obligation) to consider well of the justice of a war, before they voluntarily engage a gang of ruffians to attack their fellow merchants of a neighbouring nation, to plunder them of their property, and perhaps ruin them and their families, if they yield it; or, to wound, maim, and murder them, if they attempt to defend it. Yet these things are done by Christian merchants, whether a war be just pr unjust: and it can hardly be just on both sides. They are done by English and American merchants, who, nevertheless, complain of private theft, and hang by dozens the thieves they have taught by their own example.
It is high time, for the sake of humanity, that a stop were put to this enormity. The United States of America, though better situated than any European nation to make profit by privateering, (most of the trade of Europe, with the West-Indies passing before their doors,) are, as far as in them lies, endeavoring to abolish the practice, by offering, in all their treaties with other powers, an article, engaging solemnly, that, in case of future war, no privateer shall be commissioned on either side; and that unarmed merchant ships, on both sides, shall pursue their voyages unmolested.* This will be a happy
* This offer having been accepted by the late king of Prussia, a treaty of amity and commerce was concluded between that Monarch and the United States, containing the following humane, philanthropic article ; in the formation ot which Dr. Franklin, as one of the American plenipotentiaries, was principally concerned, viz.
ARTICLE XXm. If war should arise between the two contracting parties, the merchants of either country, then residing in the other, shall be allowed to remain nine months to collect their debts, and settle their affairs, and may depart freely, carrying off all their effects without molestation or hindrance; and all women and child;en, scholars of every faculty, cultivators of the earth, artisans, manufacture s, and fishermen unarmed and inhabiting unfortified towns, villages and places, and in general all others whose occupations are for the common subsistence and benefit of mankind, shall be allowed to continue their respective employments, and shall not be molested in their persons, nor shall their houses or goods be burnt or otherwise destroyed, nor their fields wasted, by the armed force of the enemy into whose power, by the events of war, they may happen to fall, but if any thing is necessary to be taken from them for the use of such armed force, the same shall be paid for at 'A reasonable price. And all merchants and trading vessels employed in exchanging the products of different places, and thereby rendering the necessaries, conveniences, and comforts of human life more easy to be obtained, and more general, shall be allowed to pass free and unmolested; and neither of the contracting powers shall grant or issue any commission to any private armed vessels empowering them to take or destroy such trading vessels, or interrupt such commerce