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respect to you. But such an event was never in my contemplation. And I am so far from taking credit for the defeat of that measure, that I cannot sufficiently lament my misfortune, if but one man, who ought to be at large, has passed a year in prison by my means. I am a debtor to the debtors. I confess judgment. I owe what, if ever it be in my power, I shall most certainly pay,-ample atonement and usurious amends to liberty and humanity for my unhappy lapse. For, Gentlemen, Lord Beauchamp's bill was a law of justice and policy, as far as it went: I say, as far as it went; for its fault was its being in the remedial part miserably defective.
There are two capital faults in our law with relation to civil debts. One is, that every man is presumed solvent; a presumption, in innumerable cases, directly against truth. Therefore the debtor is ordered, on a supposition of ability and fraud, to be coerced his liberty until he makes payment. By this means, in all cases of civil insolvency, without a pardon from his creditor, he is to be imprisoned for life ; and thus a miserable, mistaken invention of artificial science operates to change a civil into a criminal judgment, and to scourge misfortune or indiscretion with a punishment which the law does not inflict on the greatest crimes.
The next fault is, that the inflicting of that punishment is not on the opinion of an equal and public judge, but is referred to the arbitrary discretion of a private, nay, interested and irritated, individual. He who formally is, and substantially ought to be, the judge, is in reality no more than ministerial, a mere executive instrument of a private man, who is at once judge and party. Every idea of judicial order is subverted by this procedure. If the insolvency be no crime, why is it punished with arbitrary imprisonment? If it be a crime, why is it delivered into private hands to pardon without discretion, or to punish without mercy and without measure?
To these faults, gross and cruel faults in our law, the excellent principle of Lord Beauchamp's bill applied some sort of remedy. I know that credit must be preserved: but equity must be preserved too; and it is impossible that any thing should be necessary to commerce which is inconsistent with justice. The principle of credit was not weakened by that bill. God forbid! The enforcement of that credit was only put into the same public judicial hands on which we depend for our lives and all that makes life dear to us. But indeed this business was taken up too warmly, both here and elsewhere. The bill
2 This "private individual" is, to be sure, the creditor himself, whose will dominates the whole question; so that he is, to all intents and purposes, the judge in his own case, while the public judge is merely his minister or agent.
was extremely mistaken. It was supposed to enact what it never enacted; and complaints were made of clauses in it, as novelties, which existed before the noble lord that brought in the bill was born. There was a fallacy that ran through the whole of the objections. The gentlemen who opposed the bill always argued as if the option lay between that bill and the ancient law. But this is a grand mistake. For, practically, the option is between not that bill and the old law, but between that bill and those occasional laws called Acts of Grace. For the operation of the old law is so savage, and so inconvenient to society, that for a long time past, once in every Parliament, and lately twice, the legislature has been obliged to make a general arbitrary jail-delivery, and at once to set open, by its sovereign authority, all the prisons in England.
Gentlemen, I never relished Acts of grace, nor ever submitted to them but from despair of better. They are a dishonourable invention, by which, not from humanity, not from policy, but merely because we have not room enough to hold these victims of the absurdity of our laws, we turn loose upon the public three or four thousand naked wretches, corrupted by the habits, debased by the ignominy of a prison. If the creditor had a right to those carcasses as a natural security for his property, I am sure we have no right to deprive him of that security. But if the few pounds of flesh were not necessary to his security, we had not a right to detain the unfortunate debtor, without any benefit at all to the person who confined him. Take it as you will, we commit injustice. Now Lord Beauchamp's bill intended to do deliberately, and with great caution and circumspection, upon each several case, and with all attention to the just claimant, what Acts of grace do in a much greater measure, and with very little care, caution, or deliberation.
I suspect that here, too, if we contrive to oppose this bill, we shall be found in a struggle against the nature of things. For, as we grow enlightened, the public will not bear, for any length of time, to pay for the maintenance of whole armies of prisoners, nor, at their own expense, submit to keep jails as a sort of garrisons, merely to fortify the absurd principle of making men judges in their own cause. For credit has little or no concern in this cruelty. I speak in a commercial assembly. You know that credit is given because capital must be employed; that men calculate the chances of insolvency; and they either withhold the credit, or make the debtor pay the risk in the price. The counting-house has no alliance with the jail. Holland understands trade as well as we, and she has done much more than this obnoxious bill intended to do. There was not, when Mr. Howard visited Holland, more than one prisoner for debt in the great city of Rotterdam. Although Lord Beauchamp's Act (which was previous to this bill, and intended to feel the way for it) has already preserved liberty to thousands, and though it is not three years since the last Act of grace passed, yet, by Mr. Howard's last account, there were near three thousand again in jail. I cannot name this gentlemen without remarking that his labours and writings have done much to open the eyes and hearts of mankind. He has visited all Europe, not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces or the stateliness of temples, not to make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur nor to form a scale of the curiosity of modern art, not to collect medals or collate manuscripts,- but to dive into the depths of dungeons, to plunge into the infections of hospitals, to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain, to take the gauge and dimensions of misery, depression, and contempt, to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the for. saken, and to compare and collate the distresses of all men in all countries. His plan is original; and it is as full of genius as it is of humanity. It was a voyage of discovery, a circumnavigation of charity. Already the benefit of his labour is felt more or less in every country; I hope he will anticipate his final reward by seeing all its effects fully realized in his own. He will receive, not by retail, but in gross, the reward of those who visit the prisoner; and he has so forestalled and monopolized this branch of charity, that there will be, I trust, little room to merit by such acts of benevolence hereafter.
Nothing now remains to trouble you with but the fourth charge against me,- the business of the Roman Catholics. It is a business closely connected with the rest. They are all on one and the same principle. My little scheme of conduct, such as it is, is all arranged. I could do nothing but what I have done on this subject, without confounding the whole train of my ideas and disturbing the whole order of my life. Gentlemen, I ought to apologize to you for seeming to think any thing at all necessary to be said upon this matter. The calumny is fitter to be scrawled with the midnight chalk of incendiaries, with “No Popery,” on walls and doors of devoted houses, than to be mentioned in any civilized company. I had heard that the spirit of discontent on that subject was very prevalent here. With pleasure I find that I have been grossly misinformed. If it exists at all in this city, the laws have crushed its exertions, and our morals have shamed its appearance in daylight. I have pursued this spirit wherever I could trace it; but it still fled from me. It was a ghost which all had heard of, but none had seen. None would acknowledge that he thought the public proceeding with regard to our Catholic dissenters to be
blamable ; but several were sorry it had made an ill impression upon others, and that my interest was hurt by my share in the business. I find with satisfaction and pride, that not above four or five in this city (and I dare say these misled by some gross misrepresentation) have signed that symbol of delusion and bond of sedition, that libel on the national religion and English character, the Protestant Association. It is, therefore, Gentlemen, not by way of cure, but of prevention, and lest the arts of wicked men may prevail over the integrity of any one amongst us, that I think it necessary to open to you the merits of this transaction pretty much at large; and I beg your patience upon it; for, although the reasonings that have been used to depreciate the Act are of little force, and though the authority of the men concerned in this ill design is not very imposing, yet the audaciousness of these conspirators against the national honour, and the extensive wickedness of their attempts, have raised persons of no little importance to a degree of evil eminence, and imparted a sort of sinister dignity to proceedings that had their origin in only the meanest and blindest malice.
In explaining to you the proceedings of Parliament which have been complained of, I will state to you,- first, the thing that was done,- next, the persons who did it,—and lastly, the grounds and reasons upon which the legislature proceeded in this deliberate act of public justice and public prudence.
Gentlemen, the condition of our nature is such that we buy our blessings at a price. The reformation, one of the greatest periods of human improvement, was a time of trouble and confusion. The vast structure of superstition and tyranny which had been for ages in rearing, and which was combined with the interest of the great and of the many, which was moulded into the laws, the manners, and civil institutions of nations, and blended with the frame and policy of States, could not be brought to the ground without a fearful struggle ; nor could it fall without a violent concussion of itself and all about it. When this great revolution was attempted in a more regular mode by government, it was opposed by plots and seditions of the people ; when by popular efforts, it was repressed as rebellion by the hand of power; and bloody executions (often bloodily returned) marked the whole of its progress through all its stages. The affairs of religion, which are no longer heard of in the tumult of our present contentions, made a principal ingredient in the wars and politics of that time: the enthu. siasm of religion threw a gloom over the politics; and political interests poisoned and perverted the spirit of religion upon all sides. The Protestant religion, in that violent struggle, in.
fected, as the Popish had been before, by worldly interests and worldly passions, became a persecutor in its turn, sometimes of the new sects, which carried their own principles further than it was convenient to the original reformers, and always of the body from whom they parted : and this persecuting spirit arose, not only from the bitterness of retaliation, but from the merciless policy of fear.
It was long before the spirit of true piety and true wisdom, involved in the principles of the Reformation, could be depurated from the dregs and feculence of the contention with which it was carried through. However, until this be done, the Reformation is not complete :.and those who think themselves good Protestants, from their animosity to others, are in that respect no Protestants at all. It was at first thought necessary, perhaps, to oppose to Popery another Popery, to get the better of it. Whatever was the cause, laws were made in many countries, and in this kingdom in particular, against Papists, which are as bloody as any of those which had been enacted by the Popish princes and States : and where those laws were not bloody, in my opinion they were worse; as they were slow, cruel outrages on our nature, and kept men alive only to insult in their persons every one of the rights and feelings of humanity. I pass those statutes, because I would spare your pious ears the repetition of such shocking things; and I come to that particular law the repeal of which has produced so many unnatural and unexpected consequences.
A statute was fabricated in the year 1699, by which the saying mass (a church service in the Latin tongue, not exactly the same as our liturgy, but very near it, and containing no offence whatsoever against the laws, or against good morals) was forged into a crime, punishable with perpetual imprisonment. The teaching school, an useful and virtuous occupation, even the teaching in a private family, was in every Catholic subjected to the same unproportioned punishment. Your industry, and the bread of your children, was taxed for a pecuniary reward to stimulate avarice to do what Nature refused, to inform and prosecute on this law. Every Roman Catholic was, under the same Act, to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy. When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed