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were indeed made with honest intentions, that the halfruined debtor, not being too suddenly pressed by some, might have time to arrange and recover his affairs so as to do justice to all his creditors. But, since the intention in making those acts has been misapprehended, and the acts wilfully misconstrued into a design of defrauding them, and now made a matter of reproach to us, I think it will be right to repeal them all. Individual Americans may be ruined, but the country will save by the operation; since these unthinking, merciless creditors must be contented with all that is to be had, instead of all that may be due to them, and the accounts will be settled by insolvency. When all have paid that can pay, I think the remaining British creditors, who suffered by the inability of their ruined debtors, have some right to call upon their own government (which by its bad projects has ruined those debtors) for a compensation. A sum given by Parliament for this purpose would be more properly disposed, than in rewarding pretended loyalists, who fomented the war. And, the heavier the sum, the more tendency it might have to discourage such destructive projects hereafter.
Among the merchants of Britain, trading formerly to America, there are to my knowledge many considerate and generous men, who never joined in this clamor, and who, on the return of peace, though by the treaty entitled to an immediate suit for their debts, were kindly disposed to give their debtors reasonable time for restoring their circumstances, so as to be able to make payment conveniently. These deserve the most grateful acknowledgments. And indeed it was in their favor, and perhaps for their sakes in favor of all other British creditors, that the law of Pennsylvania, though since much exclaimed against, was made, restraining the recovery of old debts during a certain time. For this
restraint was general, respecting domestic as well as British debts, it being thought unfair, in cases where there was not sufficient for all, that the inhabitants, taking advantage of their nearer situation, should swallow the whole, excluding foreign creditors from any share. And in cases where the favorable part of the foreign creditors were disposed to give time, with the views abovementioned, if others less humane and considerate were allowed to bring immediate suits and ruin the debtor, those views would be defeated. When this law expired in September, 1784, a new one was made, continuing for some time longer the restraint with respect to domestic debts, but expressly taking it away where the debt was due from citizens of the State to any of the subjects of Great Britain;* which shows clearly the disposition of the Assembly, and that the fair intentions above ascribed to them in making the former act, are not merely the imagination of the writer.
Indeed, the clamor has been much augmented by numbers joining it, who really had no claim on our country. Every debtor in Britain, engaged in whatever trade, when he had no better excuse to give for delay of payment, accused the want of returns from America. And the indignation, thus excited against us, now appears so general among the English, that one would imagine their nation, which is so exact in expecting
Extract from an Act of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, entitled, “An Act for directing the Mode of recovering Debts contracted before the first Day of January, in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven."
Exception in Favor of British Creditors.
"Sect. 7. And provided also, and be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that this Act, nor any thing therein contained, shall not extend, or be construed to extend, to any debt or debts which were due before the fourth day of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six, by any of the citizens of the State, to any of the subjects of Great Britain.'
punctual payment from all the rest of the world, must be at home the model of justice, the very pattern of punctuality. Yet, if one were disposed to recriminate, it would not be difficult to find sufficient matter in several parts of their conduct. But this I forbear. The two separate nations are now at peace, and there can be no use in mutual provocations to fresh enmity. If I have shown clearly that the present inability of many American merchants to discharge their debts, contracted before the war, is not so much their fault, as the fault of the crediting nation, who, by making an unjust war on them, obstructing their commerce, plundering and devastating their country, were the cause of that inability, I have answered the purpose of writing this paper. How far the refusal of the British court to execute the treaty in delivering up the frontier posts, may, on account of that deficiency of payment, be justifiable, is cheerfully submitted to the world's impartial judgment.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE SUPREMEST COURT OF JUDICATURE
FROM THE FEDERAL GAZETTE, SEPTEMBER 12TH, 1789.
It may receive and promulgate accusations of all kinds, against all persons and characters among the citizens of the State, and even against all inferior courts; and may judge, sentence, and condemn to infamy, not only private individuals, but public bodies, &c., with or without inquiry or hearing, at the court's discretion.
In whose Favor and for whose Emolument this Court is established.
In favor of about one citizen in five hundred, who, by education or practice in scribbling, has acquired a tolerable style as to grammar and construction, so as to bear printing; or who is possessed of a press and a few types This five hundredth part of the citizens have the privilege of accusing and abusing the other four hundred and ninety-nine parts at their pleasure; or they may hire out their pens and press to others for that purpose.
Practice of the Court.
It is not governed by any of the rules of common courts of law. The accused is allowed no grand jury to judge of the truth of the accusation before it is publicly made, nor is the name of the accuser made known to him, nor has he an opportunity of confronting the witnesses against him; for they are kept in the dark, as in the Spanish court of Inquisition. Nor is there any petty jury of his peers, sworn to try the truth of the charges. The proceedings are also sometimes so rapid, that an honest, good citizen may find himself suddenly and unexpectedly accused, and in the same morning judged and condemned, and sentence pronounced against him, that he is a rogue and a villain. Yet, if an officer of this court receives the slightest check for misconduct in this his office, he claims immediately the rights of a free citizen by the constitution, and demands to know his accuser, to confront the witnesses, and to have a fair trial by a jury of his peers.
The Foundation of its Authority.
It is said to be founded on an article in the State Constitution, which establishes the liberty of the press; a
liberty which every Pennsylvanian will fight and die for; though few of us, I believe, have distinct ideas of its nature and extent. It seems indeed somewhat like the liberty of the press that felons have, by the common law of England, before conviction, that is, to be pressed to death or hanged. If by the liberty of the press were understood merely the liberty of discussing the propriety of public measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please; but, if it means the liberty of affronting, calumniating, and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my share of it whenever our legislators shall please so to alter the law, and shall cheerfully consent to exchange my liberty of abusing others for the privilege of not being abused myself.
By whom this Court is commissioned or constituted.
It is not by any commission from the Supreme Executive Council, who might previously judge of the abilities, integrity, knowledge, &c. of the persons to be appointed to this great trust, of deciding upon the characters and good fame of the citizens; for this court is above that Council, and may accuse, judge, and condemn it, at pleasure. Nor is it hereditary, as in the court of dernier resort, in the peerage of England. But any man who can procure pen, ink, and paper, with a press, a few types, and a huge pair of BLACKING balls, may commissionate himself; and his court is immediately established in the plenary possession and exercise of its rights. For, if you make the least complaint of the judge's conduct, he daubs his blacking balls in your face wherever he meets you; and, besides tearing your private character to flitters, marks you out for the odium of the public, as an enemy to the liberty of the press.