Page images

against the person or the malicious injurer of property would often put himself into considerable personal peril, and sustain great pecuniary loss for the sake of obtaining his desired revenge. With respect to the punishment now in force for the greater crimes of the fourth class, I have no observation to make. The question of the expediency of capital punishment in any case, has been so largely discussed, that it would be unnecessary to argue it here, nor would so small a treatise allow space for it. In practice there is seldom an execution in this country for any other crime than that of murder, and at present at least, no one has been able to devise any effectual substitute for capital punishment in this case. In others, where this awful sentence is recorded, it is generally commuted for transportation for life, and by a recent statute the same punishment may now by law be inflicted in many cases which used to be capital. In determining on an adequate punishment for these offences, the difficulties are, that on the one hand it must be so severe as to deter a man from its commission, even when under the influence of excited passion; on the other, it ought in its nature to be such as to lead to an amendment, if possible, in the temperament of the offender. Short of death, transportation for life is, in its consequences, the most dreadful punishment; and the power of inflicting it must still be left with the judge, never to be inflicted in these cases unless the most urgent necessity demands it. Success may possibly attend the new orders of Lord Stanley; but hitherto every official document from Norfolk Island shows that by removing men of this description to a place where public opinion exercises no control, and where hardship and suffering irritate the mind, fuller sway is given to their before ill-governed passions and appetites. Again to repeat those dreadful words before quoted, “when a man comes to this island he loses the heart of a man, and gets the heart of a beast.” Upon criminals, such as these the hope of worldly prosperity is not likely to operate;—unaccustomed to self-control, on the first opportunity they will again seek the gratification of their passions—again plunge into crime-encounter

re-transportation as the penalty,+become wild ferocious animals in the hopelessness of Norfolk Island, and having become worse instead of better in consequence of the penalties inflicted by social law, will at last finish by meriting and suffering capital punishment: a consummation, as it appears from official documents, not unfrequently sought by the wretched convict. ut how will such a criminal best be reformed? He is not in general a calculator; self-interest will therefore have little influence upon him, and the prospect of raising himself in the world would not counterbalance long habits of vice, and ungoverned passion. The removing him to another country where the standard of civilization is lower than in this, although the means of employment may be greater, would be hurtful rather than beneficial in this case: but a separation from the world, in some place where the mind of the prisoner could be educated, moral discipline enforced, religious instruction afforded, and medical superintendence bestowed, might probably be successful after a time. When a man’s passions can no longer be controlled by his reason, the first step has been taken towards insanity, and if their outbreak be such as to lead him to infringe the law, he should be treated as laboring under incipient disease of this kind. It is not by this intended that there should be an acquittal on the ground of insanity, but such criminals should upon conviction be removed to prison, there to remain for not less than twelve months, and longer until her majesty be pleased to release them, which should be on a certificate of confirmed good conduct from the visiting justices, on the testimony of the chaplain and governor. Their numbers have been shown to be small, the expense therefore would not be great: the prisons as they now exist would suffice, for the crowds of offenders §. at present fill them would be otherwise disposed of: and upon their release from prison after so long a discipline it is not likely that they would repeat crimes against which the feeling of society is strong-which a watchful police renders hazardous-and which it is to be hoped, their own better regulated nature would recoil from. But this kind of punishment would be inapplicable to individuals who from ill-reasoning on one point, though erhaps their general character may not have been bad, #. been induced to destroy property. They are destroyers of barns and machinery, but their nature has not }. been corrupted by any great moral depravity: requently we have proof to the contrary on the trial: but they have thought that they were carrying out a great principle of good for their class, and in order to enunciate it, they have thought themselves obliged—herein following the example of many politicians of a higher grade— to occasion a lesser evil. It is impossible under any other hypothesis to explain the fact, of the entire absence of personal enmity against the farmer injured, shown in the fire cases in Suffolk lately, in the destruction of machinery in Lancashire last year, and in Kent in 1830. They are suffering great privations, they know no other means of awakening public attention to their wants, they therefore make this their voice, thinking perhaps that they are remedying at the same time some of their grievances by the means they have taken to make them known. Actual transportation is too severe a punishment for these men, excepting when the offence has been committed under aggravated circumstances; imprisonment in the mode above suggested would fail, for by a conviction for a crime of this nature such a brand is fixed on the brow of the offender that no farmer would afterwards employ him, and his lot in England would be wretched. Compulsory emigration for life is what I would propose as a penalty for crimes of this description. For the lesser kinds of offence in this class which betoken the irregularity of youth rather than depravity of character, imprisonment with hard labor is the best punishment. . It deters this species of offender; and if the numbers in the prisons are lessened, and the worst class of criminals removed, but little contamination, if any, could be apprehended, and the character of the prisoner at least would not be deteriorated.


1. Other offences not included in the above classes.

These, with one exception,-perjury, are of a nature to which the concluding remarks of the last section are applicable:—for perjury, transportation should be retained. The man who wilfully gives false testimony differs but little from him who uses a false plate or die. His punishment should be the same.

I have now reviewed all the offences of which our law takes cognizance. In many of the punishments alterations have been suggested, which are put forward in the belief that they will bear the two great tests which ought to be applied to all provisions of this nature, i. e., that while they would lead to the prevention of crime, they would at the same time reform the criminal.

Hitherto, with very rare exceptions, no one has paid any attention to the general condition of offenders against the laws. Some great crime perhaps concentrates for a time a morbid interest upon the individual who has committed it, but this is the result of mere curiosity for the most part, which is soon exhausted, and no beneficial result ensues: the subject is in itself a distasteful one; no man likes to so the degradation of his species, and the malefactor is, by general consent, put out of remembrance. It is only thus that the system of wholesale transportation, with all its moral evils, could have gone on so long without an attempt at any amendment: year after year thousands of wretches were removed from England to perpetrate the same or worse crimes elsewhere, and the public was satisfied. The Archbishop of Dublin at last laid open its horrors before the lords, many of whom acknowledged that they were unaware till then of what had been the state of things, and to his efforts must be attributed the present improvement in the system. To a certain degree, therefore, he has been successful, but more, much more, remains to be done.

It is not enough that the wealthy classes, like the Pharisee of old, self-satisfied in their abstinence from a


certain set of crimes, in their compliance with the usages of society, and in their general intelligence, “thank God that they are not as so many other men are,” and suppose that there is nothing to amend in a state of society which yearly condemns thousands to suffer the penalty of crimes to which that very state of society has tempted them, and against which it has provided no safeguard. Wealth and power were not given either to enable the possessors to enjoy in greater abundance the pleasures of sense, or even to sit down in quiet comfort, well pleased with themselves that they have no temptation to do evil. Riches and greatness are the talents which the lord who went on a far journey confided to his servants, to be used so as to bring him at his coming an ample return. Let the landlord at that day be able to greet his greater master with “Lord, thou gavest me abundance, and-lo! I have used it to enlarge thy kingdom; here are the tenants and the laborers whom I have lived among and instructed, as well by kind words as example—they are good Christians and happy men—let them be my companions for eternity!” Let the princely merchant and wealthy manufacturer be able to reply, “Lord, I had not extensive estates confided to me, but I have had numerous dependents. I have forborne to enrich myself as much as I might have done, in order to afford to these people the instruction and the comforts without which man sinks into the brute. Here are my work people, my porters, my clerks—thy talent has gained ten!” Were such the rule instead of the exception, we should not need to build jails and workhouses. But this happy state of things cannot be expected yet, even if all were as much alive to the duties of their high station as, I thank God, many are;—for changes in society go on slowly. In the mean time it only remains that legislators do their duty too; and when they find a poor wretch steeped to the lips in misery and guilt, let them look with compassion upon him, however low he may be fallen; and for His sake in whose IMAGE he was made, endeavor to rescue him from degradation and sin, and restore the lost prodigal to his Father and theirs.

« PreviousContinue »