Page images

branch of the subject, have come to our knowledge, and unless we have been led astray by some undetected fallacy, we cannot perceive either that reason or experience holds out any hope that the mitigation of punishment aimed at by the Committee on criminal laws would at the same moment effectually deter as well as reform. Extreme mitigation of punishment, which is supposed to be that sort of it which is most friendly to the reformation of the guilty, is on the other hand most destructive to the terror which confirms the virtue of the innocent. To attain the two objects equally by means of any one punishment seems impossible. Mitigation of punishment may fail to attain either, but it cannot attain both; and considering the extent, wealth, population, and state of society in this country, to propose the extension of that mitigation so far as to produce the total or almost total abolition of capital punishment, we should look upon as one of the most adventurous schemes in legislation which has been projected from the days of Lycurgus to the present time.

While discoursing of the comparative merit of different reclaiming and preventive punishments, it is impossible not to remark, that one of the most agreeable and effectual means of repressing crimes, is to remove as far as any legislature can, the causes which are found to produce them. One of the most powerful of these is the distress created by want of employment, which is still forcing itself upon public attention. Changes of times and seasons will in every state occasionally deprive multitudes of the means of subsistence; but so great and unexpected a transition from activity to stagnation, has seldom happened to an extensive country as that which still depresses this. Into its actual extent, or probable duration, it is foreign to our purpose to inquire. We are concerned with it no further than as the want of employment which it occasions among a redundant population, has always been a source of crimes, and is now a more abundant one than ever. Those who are in needy or declining circumstances shew less disposition than in former times to bear their sufferings in silence, and less repugnance to relieve themselves by unlawful means.

It is no doubt true that when want and indigence are widely diffused, all the aid that government can render to assuage them must comparatively be unavailing; but in the present emergency it would perhaps be wiser policy, both for our own welfare and that of our colonies, that ten times the sun should be expended in conveying honest poor to the settlements, which is now employed in transporting them to New South Wales after they have degenerated into convicts. If any remedy of this kind either could or ought to be applied, it should only be temporary, and preferred with no other view than as the substitution of a lesser evil for a greater. Provision ought also to be made, if possible,




for the return of the money advanced, either in the shape of money or labour ; for, if this is not done, the effect of such a measure would be siinilar to that of the poor rates, which is another cause of the increase of crimes, and one which is infinitely more alarming. In whatever aspect the operation of the poor laws is considered, they prove themselves to be the greatest moral plague that ever overspread a country. How far or how soon it might be practicable to repeal them, it is not for us to judge; but it seems to have been reserved for them alone, to cherish every vice at the expense of every virtue, and to encourage disobedience to the law's, in the exact proportion that they promote national impoverishment. Places of riotous assemblage, and especially unnecessary fairs, are another cause of crimes which we should be glad to see restricted or abolished. There are said to be no fewer than 82 fair-days in the neighbourhood of London in the course of every summer, each of them exceeding the other in scenes of disgusting disorder and debauchery. Why such nurseries of vice should have been so long tolerated in a civilized and moral country exceeds our comprehension, for of all nuisances they seem to be the most easy to be suppressed and least susceptible of vindication. Public houses are almost equally objectionable. There are such multitudes of these, in town and country, perpetually holding out allurements to those classes of the community who are the Jeast able to resist them, that they can be regarded in no other light than as seminaries of iniquity, of which no principle of political economy that we are aware of can justify the continuance. To find fault with a just allowance of public houses, as places of reasonable recreation and refreshment, would no doubt be both preposterous and ridiculous; but to their excessive numbers, their disorderly management and unseasonable hours, many and grievous evils are distinctly owing. It is in them time and money, which tradesmen and labourers can ill spare, is spent; domestic unhappiness created or increased; bad connexions formed; familiarity with crime established, and consent too often given to become participators in its perpetration. It is there plans for the commission of crimes are usually proposed and arranged, and there the actors in them almost invariably assemble after they have been committed. We intreat those of our readers who are in possession of the Report of the Committee on Gaols to turn to the evidence of Dr. Lushington, printed at page 162, and they will find proof of the encouragement and assistance which public houses lend to delinquents, of which till then they probably had no conception. The scenes of depravity there disclosed, reflect disgrace on the license system, on the whole police of London, and excite wonder and astonishment that such deeds could be acted night after night, with


ont colour or concealment, in any country where criminal law exists and civil order, is established. If the multiplication and managenient of public houses really augment misery and guilt as much as we have now supposed, the good they do to agriculture and the revenue by the sale of spirits is but a slender compensation for the evil they occasion. To connive at dissolute or desperate habits, because they may afford a temporary supply to an exhausted treasury, will be thought but a miserable shift for any minister, as long as any sense of tight and wrong is left among us.

It has not even the merit of a sound state expedient; for private vices, when traced through all their consequences, will never prove in the end to be public benefits; and we believe no prodigal heir ever disposed of his expectations so improvidently, as a finance minister, who, for any sum of ready noney, virtually assigns the expectant virtue of his country.

Still, however, we are persuaded, that with all the assistance which can be derived from preventive remedies, as well as corrective and preventive punishments, it will not be found practicable to dispense with the infliction of death altogether. We even go farther, and say we think it might have proved wise and merciful to inflict it of late years more frequently. As this opinion may perhaps give offence, we have not delivered it without considerable reluctance. None who are guided by the priuciples of Christianity, or even by the ordinary dictates of humanity, can ever think or speak of that last resource of the law by which a fellow creature is precipitated into the presence of his Maker, and this perhaps before repentance has washed away the greenness of his guilt, without feeling himself deeply affected by the solemnity of the subject. But though this consideration imperatively requires us to subject every step of the reasoning we employ on such a topic to frequent and severe examination, yet if it stand the test and no error is detected, we can perceive no ground which it affords, why any conclusion to which that reasoning may conduct us should be either evaded or concealed. One of these conclusions is, that as the very existence of society implies the power of doing every act which may be necessary for its continuance and well-being, there are a considerable number of offences committed against these which nothing but the capital punishment of the offenders can effectually suppress. We have with astonishment heard the loss of life denied to be the most dreaded of all human punishments. The sentiments and history of all mankind refute the allegation. If there are a few common thieves or other villains for whom death has no terror, they can be regarded in no other light than as exceptions to *the general rule, and not as examples of the general rule itself. In truth, however, when their conduct comes to be marrowly ex


R 2

amined, the greater part of them will prove to be no exceptions at all.

The very exertions which on the near approach of death they find it necessary to make, in order to screw their courage to the sticking place, is the most convincing evidence which could be afforded, of their apprehension of an event which they pretend to regard with such perfect indifference. By most people, however, it is admitted that capital punishment may be an object of terror if sparingly used, but that the laws of this country so frequently enforce it, that like an overstrained spring it has lost all its efficacy either on criminals or the public; and that, at most executions, the feeling excited is adverse to the laws, and favourable to the sufferer. That the first emotion which arises in the mind on such an occasion should be that of commiseration for the culprit is perfectly natural, and that the feeling we have just mentioned bas lately been in some instances loudly expressed, is indubitable. By whom, and by what means, and for what purposes, this clamour was raised and has been continued, it would not be difficult to trace, and somewhat instructive to explain. As usually happens, however, in violent ebullitions of popular passion, it owes its existence either to entire ignorance or gross perversion of the facts on which it pretends to be founded. It is believed by many, and those too whom one would expect to be better informed, that six or eight persons are executed at the door of Newgate at the beginning of almost every week throughout the year, besides hundreds who suffer in the course of the spring and summer assizes in the country. For the correction of such an error we shall quote the following documents from the Appendix to the Report. The first is a table, which will be found at page 196, of the number of capital convictions and executions in London, from the year 1700 to 1755 inclusive. In 1700 the convictions were 21, the executions 8. 1701. 14. 3. 1702. 8. 4. 1703. 9. 1. 1704. 6. ). 1705. 19. 8. 1706. 11. 2. 1707. 13.

1708. 14. 4. 1709. 10. 1. 1710. 17. 0. 1711. 17. 1. 1712. 18. 6. 1713. 28. 11. 1714. 28. 11. 1715. 32. 14. - 1716. 35. 12. 1717. 35. 11. 1718. 25. 5. 1719. 31.

1720. 22. 12. 1721.26. 11. 1722. 19. 12. 1723. 7. 2. 1724. 14. 4. 1725. 15. 8. 1726. 22. 13. 1727. 7. 1. 1728. 25. 17. 1729. 14. 5. 1730. 7. 3. 1731. 11. 9. - 1732. 15. 7. 1733. 9. 3. 1734. 7. 1. - 1735. 11. 1. - 1736. 7. 3. 1737. 12. 0. 1738. 15. 8. 1739. 11. 3. 1740. 14. 4. 1741. 11. 5. 1742. 12. 6. 1743. 12. 8. 1744. 21. 15. 1745. 8. 4. 1746. 4. 0. 1747. 5. 0. 1748. 5. 0. 1749. 12. 0.

1750. 23. 9. 1751. 13. 8. 1752. 5. 4. 1753. 9. 7. 1754. 12. 6. 1755. 11. 5.



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The second is a table (page 136) of the number of capital convictions in London and Middlesex, from 1749 to 1818 inclusive. In 1749 there were 61 convictions and 44 executions.

1750. 84. 56. 1751. 85. 63. 1752. 52. 47. 1753. 57. 41. 1754. 50. 34.

155 39. 21. 1756. 30. 13. 1757. 37. 26. 1758. 32. 20. 1759. 15. 6. 1760. 14. 10. 1761. 22. 17. 1762. 25. 15. 1763. 61. 32. 1764. 52. 31. 1765. 41. 26. 1766. 39. 20. 1767. 49. 22. 1768. 54. 27. 1769. 71. 24. 1770. 91. 49. 1771. 60. 34. 1772. 79. 37. 1773. 101. 32. 1774. 87. 32. 1775. 74. 46. 1776. 80. 38. 1777. 63. 92. 1778. 81. 33. 1779. 60. 23. 1780. 94. 50. 1781. 90. 40. 1782. 108. 45. 1783. 108. 45. 1784. 153. 56. 1785. 151. 97. 1786. 127. 50. 1787. 113. 92. 1788. 83. 25. 1789. 97. 26. 1790. 67. 33. 1791. 83. 34. 1792. 89. 24. 1793. 58. 16. 1794. 71. 7. 1795. 49. 22. — 1796. 93. 22. 1797. 81. 19. 1798. 82. 19. 1799. 72. 24. 1800. 101. 19. 1801. 101. 14.

1802. 97. 10. 1803. 82. 9. 1804. 67. 8. 1805. 03. 10. 1806. 60. 13. 1807. 74. 14.

1808. 87. 5. 1809. 89. 8. 1810. 118. 13. 1811. 106. 17. 1812. 192. 19. 1813. 138. 17.

1814. 158. 21. 1815. 139. 21. 1816. 227. 29. 1817. 208. 16.

1818. 201. 21. The third is a table (page 132) of the total number of persons who have been committed, capitally convicted, and executed, in England and Wales, between 1805 and 1818 inclusive. In 1805 there were committed 4,605, capitally convicted 350, executed 68.

1806. 4,346. 325. 57. 1807. 4,446. 343. 63. 1808. 4,735. 338. 39. 1809. 5,330. 392. 60. 1810. 5,146. 476. .67. 1811. 5,337. 404. 45. 1812. 6,576. 532. 82. 1813. 7,164. 713. 120. 1814. 6,390. 558. 70. 1815. 7,818. 553. 57. 1816. 9,091. 890. 95. 1817. 13,932. 1,302. 115. 1818. 13,567. 1,254. 97. It will now be seen how groundless the invectives are, which have been directed against the late supposed actual or comparative increase of executions. The fact is exactly the reverse of that which is assumed; and since the year 1750, executions have decreased in the exact proportion in which convictions have augmented. The difficulty no doubt is, to discover whether the decrease in the number of executions has been the cause of the increase of crimes. Had



« PreviousContinue »