« ZurückWeiter »
when you force that, methinks you should excuse the other.
But it may be said, to give the king's seamen merchant's wages would cost the nation too much, and call for more taxes. The question then will amount to this: whether it be just in a community, that the richer part should compel the poorer to fight in defence of them and their properties, for such wages as they think fit to allow, and punish them if they refuse? Our anthor tells us that it is " legal." I have not law enough to dispute his anthorities, but I cannot persuade myself that it is equitable. I will, however, own for the present, that it may be lawful when necessary; but then I contend, that it maybe nsed so as to produce the same good effects, the public security, without doing so much intolerable injustice as attends the impressing common seamen.— In order to be better understood, I would premise two things : first, that voluntary seamen may be had for the service, if they were sufficiently paid. The proof is, that to serve in the same ship, and incur the same'dangers, you have no occasion to impress captains, lientenants, second lientenants, midshipmen, pursers, nor many other officers. Why, but that the profits of their places, or the emoluments expected, are sufficient inducements? The business then is, to find money, by impressing, sufficient to make the sailors all volunteers, as well as their officers, and this without any fresh burthen upon trade.—The second of my premises is, that twentylive shillings a month, with his share of the salt beef, pork, and peas-pudding, being found sufficient for the subsistence of. a hard-working seaman, it will certainly be so for a sedentary scholar or geu. tleman. I would then propose to form a treasury, out of which encouragements to seamen should be paid. To fill this treasury, I would impress a number of civil officers, who at present have great salaries, oblige them to serve in their respective offices for twenty-five shillings a month, with their shares of mess provisions, and throw the rest of their salaries into the seamen's treasury. If such a press* warrant were given me to execute, the first I would press should be a recorder of Bristol, or a Mr. Justice Foster, becanse I might have need of his edifying example, to show how much impressing ought to be borne with; for he would certainly find, that though to be reduced to twenty-five shillings a month might be a"private mischief," yet that, agreeably to his maxim of law and good policy, it "ought to be borne with patience," for preventing a national calamity. Then I would press the rest of the jndges; and, opening the red book, I would press every civil officer of government from 50/. a year salary, up to 50,0007. which would throw an immense sum into our treasury: and these gentlemen could not complain, since they would receive twenty-five shillings a month, and their rations; and this without being obliged to fight. Lastly, I think I would impress • • •
ON THE CRIMINAL LAWS, AND THE PRACTICE OF PRIVATEERING.
To Benjamin Vaughan, Esq.
MY DEAR FRIEND, March 14, 1785.
Among the pamphlets you lately sent me, was one, entitled Thoughts on Executive Justice. In return for that, I send you a French one on the same subject, " Observations concernant 1" execution de 1'article II de la declaration sur le vol." They are both addressed to the jndges, but written, as you will see, in a very different spirit. The English anthor is for hanging all thieves; the Frenchman is for proportioning punishments to offences.
If we really believe, as we profess to believe, that the law of Moses was the law of God, the dictate of divine wisdom, infinitely superior to human; on what principles do we ordain death as the punishment of an offence, which, according to that law, was only to be punished by a restitution of fourfold? To put a man to death for an offence which does not deserve death, is it not a murder? And, as the French writer says, Doit on punir tin dilit cantre la societe par un crime contre la nature?
Superfluous property is the creature of society. Simple and mild laws were sufficient to guard the property that was merely necessary. The savage's bow, his hatchet, and his coat of skins, were sufficiently secured, without law, by the fear of personal resentment and retaliation. When, by virtue of the first laws, part of the society accumulated wealth and grew powerful, they enacted others more severe, and would protect their property at the expense of humanity. This was abusing their power, and commencing a tyranny. If a savage, before he entered into society, had been told,—" Your neighhour, by this means, may become owner of a hundred deer; but if your brother, or your son, or yourself, having no deer of your own, and being hungry, should kill one, an infamous death must be the consequence:" he would probably have pre
VOL. II. D
ferred his liberty, and his common right of killing any deer, to all the advantages of society that might be proposed to him.
That it is better a hundred guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer, is a maxim that has been long and generally approved; never, that I know of, controverted. Even the sanguinary anthor of the " Thoughts"agrees to it, adding well, " that the very thought of injured innocence, and much more that of suffering innocence, must awaken all our tenderest and most compassionate feelings, and at the same time raise our highest indignation against the instruments of it. But," he adds, "there is no danger of either, from a strict adherence to the laws."—Really! Is it then impossible to make an unjust law? and if the law itself be unjust, may it not be the very" instrument" which ought " to raise the anthor's and every body's highest indignation?" I see, in the last newspapers from London, that a woman is capitally convicted at the Old Bailey, for privately stealing out of a shop some ganze, value fourteen shillings and three pence: is there any proportion between the injury done by a theft, value fourteen shillings and threepence, and the punishment of a human creature, by death, on a gibbet? Might not that woman, by her labour, have made the reparation ordained by God, in paying fourfold? Is not all punishment, inflicted beyond the merit of the offence, so much punishment of innocence? In this light, how vast is the annual quantity, of not only i/ijured, but suffering innocence, in almost all the civilized states of Europe!
But it seems to have been thought that this kind
of innocence may be punished by way of preventing crimes. I have read, indeed, of a cruel Turk in Barbary, who, whenever he bought a new Christian slave, ordered him immediately to be hung up by the legs, and to receive a hundred blows of a cndgel on the soles of his feet, that the severe sense of the punishment, and fear of incurring it thereafter, might prevent the fanlts that should merit it. Our anthor himself would hardly approve entirely of this Turk's conduct in the government of slaves; and yet he appears to recommend something like it for the government of English subjects, when he applands the reply of jndge Burnet to the convict horse-stealer; who, being asked what he had to say why jndgment of death should not pass against him, and answering, that it was hard to hang a man for only stealing a horse, was told by the jndge,"" Man, thou art not to be hanged only for stealing a horse, but that horses may not be stolen." The man's answer, if candidly examined, will, I imagine, appear reasonable, as being founded on the eternal principle of justice and equity, that punishments should be proportioned to offences; and the jndge's reply brutal and unreasonable, though the writer " wishes all jndges to carry it with them whenever they go the circuit, and to bear it in their minds, as containing a wise reason for all the penal statutes which they are called upon to put in execution. It at once illustrates," says he," the true grounds and reasons of all capital punishments whatsoever; namely, that every man's property, as well as his life, may be held sacred and inviolate." Is there then no difference in value between property and life? If I think it right that the crime of murder