Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

night; the daylight is advancing upon us : let not the Sun rise upon our shame! But let us close this miserable scene under the cover of the darkdess which suits with it, and under the shelter of our own walls.

Strongly as I think the public ought to know what passes here, I wish to God I could bind you, myself, the whole house, with every clerk, serjeant, messenger, and attendant, to secresy on this occasion. But that would be impossible, Still, sir, may a great deal of mischief be avoided, if we keep ourselves to ourselves; if we do not send our judgment to be executed abroad, to create riot, tumult, and sedition. Most sincerely, therefore, do I call upon the noble lord who sits on the treasury bench; he has neither my ill thoughts, nor my ill wishes; and, if his lordship is truly spoken of, he can never approve of this business. Let him then permit me to conjure him, for his own honour, for the ease and dignity of his sove. reign, and, above all, for his country's peace, to lay hold on the opportunity given by the worthy general, to close this scene of mischief here.

The main object of those who are charged with the cares of government, is peace. Great kings, and wise, ministers, have thought it not beneath them to give up points of the greatest moment for the sake of peace. Ministers must govern accidents, not be governed by them. But when ministers themselves endanger public peace for trifles, and raise discord out of atoms, theu is government itself in a state of anarchy.

The storm that now hạngs over us was raised by

government: and whatever consequences may follow, they who began, and who have countenanced this proceeding, are answerable to their king, their country, and their God.

SPEECH OF SIR WILLIAM MEREDITH, ON FRE

QUENT EXECUTIONS. 1777. I AGREE with my honourable friend, (Mr. Combe) that no greater crime can be committed than the wilful setting fire to merchant ships, which may endanger not only lives and properties, but public safety. I should think this crime, above all others, fit to be punished with death, if I could suppose the infliction of death at all useful in the prevention of crimes.

But in subjects of this nature, we are to consider, not what the individual is, nor what he may have done; we are to consider only what is right for public example, and private safety.

Whether hanging ever did, or can, answer any good purpose, I doubt: but the cruel exhibition of every execution day, is a proof that hanging carries no terrour with it. And I am confident, that every new sanguinary law operates as an encouragement to commit capital offences; for it is not the mode, but the certainty of punishment, that creates terrour. What men know they must endure, they fear; what they think they can escape, they despise. The multiplieity of our hanging laws has produced these two things; frequency of condemnation, and frequent pardons. As hope is the first and greatest spring of action, if it was so, that out of twenty convicts one only was to be pardoned, the thief would say, "Why may not I be that one?' But since, as our laws are actually administered, not one in twenty is executed, the thief acts on the chance of twenty to one in his favour; he acts on a fair and reasonable presumption of indemnity; and I verily believe, that the confident hope of indemnity is the cause of nineteen in twenty robberies that are committed.

But if we look to the executions themselves, what example do they give? The thief dies either hardened or penitent. We are not to consider such reflections as occur to reasonable and good men, but such impressions as are made on the thoughtless, the desperate, and the wicked. These men look on the hardened villain with envy and admiration. All that animation and contempt of death with which heroes and martyrs inspire good men in a good cause, the abandoned villain feels in seeing a desperado like himself meet death with intrepidity. The penitent thief, on the other hand, often makes the sober villain think in this way: himself oppressed with poverty and want, he sees a man die with that penitence which promises pardon for his sins here, and happiness hereafter; straight he thinks, that by robbery, forgery, or murder, he can relieve all his wants; and if he be brought to justice, the punishment will be short and trifling, and the reward eternal.

Even in crimes which are seldom or never pardoned, death is no prevention. House-breakers, forgers, and coiners, are sure to be hanged: yet house-breaking, forgery, and coining, are the very crimes which are the oftenest committed. Strange it is, that in the case of blood, of which we ought to be most tender, we should still go on, against reason and against experience, to make unavailing slaughter of our fellow creatures. A recent event has proved, that policy will do what blood cannot do. I mean the late regulation of the coinage. For thirty years together men were continually hanged for coining; still it went on : but, on the new regulation of the gold coin, ceased. This event proves these two things : the efficacy of police, and the inefficacy of hanging. But is it not very extraordinary, that since the regulation of the gold coin, an act has passed, making it treason to coin silver? But has it stopped the coining of silver? On the contrary, do you not hear of it more than ever? It seems as if the law and the crime bore the same date. I do not know what the honourable member thinks who brought in the bill; but perhaps some feelings may come across his own mind, when he sees how many lives he is taking away for no purpose. Had it been fairly stated, and specifically pointed out, what the mischief of coining silver in the utmost extent is, that hanging bill might not have been so readily adopted : under the name of treason it found an easy passage. I indeed have always understood treason to be nothing less than some act or conspiracy against the life or honour of the king, and the safety of the state : but what the king or state can suffer by my taking now and then a bad sixpence or a bad shilling, I cannot imagine.

By this nickname of treason, however, there

lies at this moment in Newgate, under sentence to be burnt alive, a girl just turned of fourteen; at her master's bidding, she hid some white-washed farthings behind her stays, on which the jury found her guilty, as an accomplice with her master in the treason. The master was hanged last Wednesday; and the faggots all lay ready--no reprieve came, till just as the cart was setting out, and the girl would have been burnt alive on the same day, had it not been for the humane but casual interference of lord Weymouth. Good God! sir, are we taught to execrate the fires of Smithfield, and are we lighting them now to burn a poor harmless child for hiding a white-washed farthing! And yet, this barbarous sentence, which ought to make men shudder at the thought of shedding blood for such trivial causes, is brought as a reason for more hanging and burning. It was recommended to me, not many days ago, to bring in a bill to make it treason to coin copper, as well as gold and silver. Yet, in the formation of these sanguinary laws, humanity, religion, and policy, are thrown out of the question. This one wise argument is always sufficient; if you hang for one fault, why not for another! if for stealing a sheep, why not for a cow or a horse? If for a shilling, why not for a handkerchief that is worth eighteen-pence-and so on. We therefore ought to oppose the increase of these new laws: the more, because every fresh one begets twenty others.

Wheh a member of parlianient brings in a new hanging law, he begins with mentioning some injury that may be done to private property, for

« ZurückWeiter »