« ZurückWeiter »
the crown in either case at his own expense. Masters and mariners received full wages, and owners were constantly paid a full freight.” Full wages. Probably the same they received in the merchant's service. Full wages to a seaman in time of war, are the wages he has in the merchant's service in war time. But half such wages is not given in the king's ships to impressed seamen. Page 173. “Do not these things incontestably presuppose the expediency, the necessity, and the legality of an impress in general If they do not, one must entertain an opinion of the legislature
acting and speaking in this manner, which it will not be decent for me to mention in this place.”
I will risk that indecency, and mention it. They were not honest men; they acted unjustly by the seamen, (who have no vote in elections, or being abroad cannot use them if they have them,) to save their own purses and those of their constituents. Former parliaments acted the same injustice towards the laboring people, who had not forty shillings a year in lands; after depriving them wickedly of their right to vote in elections, they limited their wages, and compelled them to work at such limited rates, on penalty of being sent to houses of correction. Sec. 8. H. vi. Chap. 7 and 8.
Page 174. “I readily admit that an impress is a restraint upon the natural liberty of those who are liable to it. But it must likewise be admitted, on the other hand, that every restraint upon natural liberty is not eo nomine illegal, or at all inconsistent with the principles of civil liberty. And if the restraint, be it to what degree soever, appeareth to be necessary to the good and welfare of the whole, and to be warranted by statute law, as well as immemorial usage, it cannot be complained of otherwise than as a private mischief; which, as I said at the beginning, must under all governments whatsoever be submitted to for avoiding a public inconvenience.”
I do not see the propriety of this must. The private mischief is the loss of liberty and the hazard of life, with only half wages, to a great number of honest men. The public inconvenience is merely a higher rate of seamen's wages. He who thinks such private injustice must be done to avoid public inconvenience, may understand law, but seems imperfect in his knowledge of equity. Let us apply this author's doctrine to his own case. It is for the public service that courts should be had and judges appointed to administer the laws. The judges should be bred to the law and skilled in it, but their great salaries are a public inconvenience. To remove the inconvenience, let presswarrants issue to arrest and apprehend the best lawyers, and compel them to serve as judges for half the money they would have made at the bar. Then tell them, that, though this is to them a private mischief, it must be submitted to for avoiding a public inconvenience. Would the learned judge approve such use of his doctrine 7 When the author speaks of impressing, page 158, he diminishes the horror of the practice as much as possible, by presenting to the mind one sailor only suffering a hardship as he tenderly calls it, in some particular cases only; and he places against this private mischief the inconvenience to the trade of the kingdom. But if, as I suppose is often the case, the sailor who is pressed and obliged to serve for the defence of this trade at the rate of 25s. a month, could have £3.15s, in the merchant's service, you take from him 50s, a month; and if you have 100,000 in your service, you rob that honest part of society and their poor families of £250,000, per month, or three millions a year, and at the same time oblige them to hazard their lives in fighting for the defence of your trade; to the defence of which all ought indeed to contribute, (and sailors among the rest.) in proportion to their profits by it; but this three millions is more than their share, if they did not pay with their persons; and, 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 for them and their properties, for such wages as they think fit to allow, and punish them if they refuse ? Our author tells us it is legal. I have not law enough to dispute his authority, but I cannot persuade myself it is equitable. I will however own for the present, that pressing may be lawful when necessary; but then I contend that it may be used so as to produce the same good effect, the public security, without doing so much horrible injustice as attends the impressing common seamen. In order to be better understood, I would premise two things. First, that voluntary seamen might be had for the service, if they were sufficiently paid. The proof of this is, that to serve in the same ships, and incur the same dangers, you have no occasion to impress captains, lieutenants, second lieutenants, midshipmen, pursers, nor any other officers. Why, but that the profit of their places, or the emoluments expected, are sufficient inducements ? The business then is by impressing to find money 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, 258. a month, with his share of the salt beef, pork, and pease-pudding, being found sufficient for the subsistence of a hard-working seaman, it will certainly be so for a sedentary scholar or gentleman. I would then propose to form a treasury, out of which encouragement to seamen should be paid. To fill this treasury I would impress a number of civil VOL. II.
officers who at present have great salaries, oblige them to serve in their respective offices for 258. per month, with their share of the mess provisions, and throw the rest of their salaries into the seaman's treasury. If such a press-warrant was given me to execute, the first person I would press should be a recorder of Bristol, or a Mr. Justice Foster, because I might have need of his edifying example, to show how such impressing ought to be borne with; for he would certainly find, that, though to be reduced to 258. per 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 judges; and, opening the Red Book, I would press every civil officer of government from £50. a year up to £50,000., which would throw an immense sum into our treasury; and these gentlemen could not well complain, since they would receive their 258. a month and their rations, and that too without being obliged to fight. Lastly, I think I would impress the King, and confiscate his salary; but, from an ancient prejudice I have in favor of that title, I would allow him the gentleman merchant's pay. I could not go farther in his favor; for, to say the truth, I am not quite satisfied of the necessity or utility of that office in Great Britain, as I see many flourishing states in the world governed well and happy without it.
Page 177. “ For I freely declare, that ancient precedents alone, unless supported by modern practice, weigh very little with me in questions of this nature.”
The modern practice, supported by ancient precedents, weigh as little with me. Both the one and the other only show that the constitution is yet imperfect, since in so general a case it doth not secure liberty, but destroys it; and the parliaments are unjust, conniving
at oppression of the poor, where the rich are to be