Page images

his Debts; to use the Extremity of the Law against such a Man, is not only cruel and inhuman, but, as far as I can judge, contrary to the true Meaning and Design of the Law itself. For the Law which gives Power over the Body of the Debtor, is not a criminal Law, ordained for the Punithment of Offenders; but is a Law made to secure Men in their Properties, and to guard them against the Arts and Contrivances of such as would injure them in their just Demands. To use the Law therefore, where it cannot possibly have any Effect towards securing your Property, but can serve only to harass and torment a poor unfortunate Man, is perverting the Law, and making it subfervient to Purposes very different from those, for the sake of which it was ordained. The Law does not entrust private Men with the Execution, or Relaxation of its Penalties for Crimes and Offences ; but in the present Case, every Man may imprison, or release from Prison, his Debtor, as he pleases; a plain Evidence that this Law was meant as a Defence of private Rights, and not as a Punishment for Criminals, · Is it then a general Rule, that the Law can never with good Conscience be executed


against insolvent Debtors ? There may poffibly be Exceptions, and more than I can foresee; but I think they must all be attended with this Circumstance, that there be a Prospect of recovering the Debt, though the Debtor himself be insolvent. It may so happen, that he who has nothing of his own, may have wealthy Friends and Relations ; and though Friends are not often willing, for the Sake of Justice, to pay the Debts of a Relation, yet, for the Honour of the Family, or out of personal Regard to the Relation, they will pay the Money as the Price of his Redemption from a Gaol. Many Cases may be imagined, where a rich Relation ought in Reason to pay the Debt, rather than the poor Creditor to lose it. In such Cases, there may be a Reason to justify or excuse the Proceeding.

Some think that no Severity is too great to be used towards such as have spent their Estates riotously, to the Injury of their Creditors. And indeed little is to be said in Behalf of such Persons. Yet still it is worth considering, whether you would choose to be Judge and Executioner in your own Cause. And if the Case be really so desperate, that you can aim at nothing by the Execution

of of the Law, but the Punishment of the Man who has wronged you, I am sure it is the safer. Way to leave the Punishment to him, who has said, Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

But the Case, which I have principally in View, stands clear of these Exceptions. The unfortunate Persons, with whom the Gaols are crowded, are, for the most part, such as have neither Money nor Friends to affist them; such as have fallen into Poverty by Misfortunes, by a Decay in their Bufiness, or perhaps by the Largeness of a Family, which their utmost Diligence could not support. Were they at Liberty, they might probably be of Use to themselves, and their poor Families, and also to their Creditors, by following their honest Callings and Employments. But now their Strength consumes in vain, they starve in Prison, and their Children out of it, or are thrown upon the Parish for a miserable Maintenance; and no Benefit or Advantage accrues, or can poffibly accrue, to the Person who confines them.

Men are often urged to deal thus severely with others, by the Grief and Anguish which attend the Disappointment they meet

with in their just Expectation; and being themselves Sufferers, they think no Treatment too bad for those to whom they impute their own Distress. But could Men consider calmly how much Misery they bring into the World, and how many muft partake in the fad Effects of their Resentment, I am persuaded that Humanity and Compaffion, Virtues to which this Country never was a Stranger, would in great Measure prevent this Evil.

When the Father of a poor Family, who have nothing to depend on for their Subfiftence but his Labour and Industry, is torn from them, what can the poor Widow and Orphans do ? For a Widow she is, and Or. phans they are, to all the Intents and Purposes of Sorrow and Affliction. It is well if they take no worse Employment than begging; oftentimes they are tempted to pilfer or steal, or to prostrate themselves for Bread; and happy is it for them, if they meet with no worse Fortune, than to fall into your Hands to be corrected and reformed.

In the mean Time the wretched Father sees himself undone, and his Family dispersed and ruined. His Spirits sink under Sorrow, and Despair eats out his Strength and

Life; that should you in Time relent and release him, it is ten to one but the Relief comes too late. He is no longer the same Man; before his Imprisonment he was active and strong, and had Spirit to go through his Labour ; now he is broken in Mind and Body, and not able to improve to any Advantage that Liberty, which at last you are willing to allow him.

Would not any one, who considers this, be apt to imagine, that no Man lies in Prison but for some great Debt; that it is impoffible that any one should use another thus cruelly for a Trifle ? And yet, in Truth, the Case is quite otherwise : there are few, in Comparison, who lie for great Sums; the far greater Number are confined for Trifles, for such Sums as must be reckoned by Pence, and not by Pounds. It is true, they are cominonly confined at the Suit of those, who are almost as poor as themselves; and the Poverty on the one side is often urged as a Justification of the Severity used against the other. But alas ! what Relief is it to one poor Man to undo another? What Comfort is it to torment a Wretch, whose Misery can yield you no Profit or Advantage ?


« PreviousContinue »