Page images

those principles which constitute the basis of Christianity, but in every sentiment of special importance; and that they are one in the temper of their minds, all actuated by the same motives, all serving the same divine Lord, pursuing the same object, and partaking the same pleasure. How would the discovery of this agreement stifle every unfriendly passion and banish alienation. How would Christians be ashamed of their unchartabicness toward those, who adore and serve the same Lord, and trust in the same atonement. How would they blush at their treatment of those, who hold in substance the same faith, and are cordially unit, ed to the same cause.


While a proper use of confes sions would be likely to preserve the purity of Christian doctrine, from the contagion of error, and to secure the ministry and the church from those who deny the faith; it would be a very powerful means of bringing all good, men to embrace each other with the warmest affection, and either,

to lay aside their controversies, or to manage them with modera tion and charity. The little dis tinctions, which would remain among them, would not confine the noble freedom of their love, Narrow party spirit would exwhile the discussion of pire; points on which they differed, be ing conducted with good temper and with prayer, would undoubt edly introduce an increasing uniformity. The warmth and zeal, so hurtfully directed against fellow Christians, would be employ ed in a joint and vigorous oppo sition against their common enemy, Their union would inconceivably augment their strength, and render every measure for Zion's good vastly more effective. Thus Christian virtue and piety would be strongly recommended to the esteem of mankind, and the church, all its divisions, its weakness, and deformity forgot ten, would look forth as the morn ing fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,



For the Panoplist. though they are enacted with consummate wisdom, and sanc tioned by the authority of a thou sand Solons; yet if the execu tion of them is attended with delay and indecision, they will nec essarily be inefficacious.


AMONG the many rules proposed for deriving the greatest benefit from laws, this is one of the most important; that they be promptly and speedily enforced, Though they combine in them the two essential qualities of strength and impartiality; tho' they are plainly and invariably directed to the public good;

Present punishment is a much more powerful preventive of crimes, than future punishment. When present evil engages our, attention, and threatens our hap. piness, it appears highly alarm:

[ocr errors]

ing, and how to avoid it is the object of our immediate and anxious inquiry; but, if removed to a moderate distance, it loses its formidable aspect, and dwindles into comparative insignificance. This wild judgment with respect to present and future objects encourages all the vices that deform the human character. It is this which makes the sluggard prefer poverty and contempt, to wealth and respectability; which persuades the drunkard to indulge in excess with the certainty of losing health and reputation, and of becoming the object of universal disgust and abhorrence; which induces the voluptuary to plunge others with himself into the depths of infamy and sin; and which leads millions of moral beings to postpone the concerns of eternity for the enjoy ments of the hour. What we apprehend to be near, is magnified by all the powers of the imagination; while we force our selves to believe remote objects enveloped in clouds of uncertainty. But as a portrait is useless, when the living person is present to our view; so I need not attempt to describe that which is felt by every mind, and which it requires all the power of religion to overcome. Of this propensity the magistrate may the more profitably take advantage, as it is peculiarly strong in those who most frequently expose themselves to the penalty of law; men unaccustomed to reflect, and prone to seize on temptation, equally regardless of the crime, and its distant consequences. A light punishment, therefore, which follows an offence without delay, strikes greater terror, than one immensely more

severe, if it is to be inflicted at some future period. Thus by a prompt administration of justice, the good of the community is promoted with the good of the offender; a happy concurrence, which the wise and benevolent legisla tor will always strive to obtain.

When punishment accompanies transgression, and the connexion between them appears inseparable, the penalty is considered as more just, both by the sufferer, and the public. If the people once form an opinion that the laws are too rigorous, all the good to be expected from them is entirely prevented. Pity is necessarily excited for the transgressor; and where this passion prevails, justice will not long maintain its authority. The offender, who has been soothed by the voice of compassion, feels half recompensed for his sufferings, and quite justified in the conduct, which brought them upon him. But if he is led from the very act to the place of punishment, all will see the wisdom of the law, which condemns him, and popular compassion will not operate to disarm justice of its terrors. For a short time after an offence is committed, all trans

gressors, but the most abandoned, feel a compunction for their violation of the laws. This time should be seized as the moment for the infliction of punishment to the best advantage. But if the decisions of conscience are suffered to be neglected and forgotten before those of law are denounced, punishment will answer no purpose to the sufferer, but to make him the more incorrigible.

Another fundamental requisite to the happy regulation of a

community, is, that the execution of the laws be rigorously exact. It would be hardly necessary to touch upon this part of the subject, were it not an opinion embraced by vast numbers of our countrymen, that, provided the quiet of individuals, and of the public, is not directly and wantonly disturbed, it is a matter of no serious concern what else is done; that all offences, which do not immediately accomplish this end, are mere venial trifles; and that it is the part of a prudent, and especially of a good-natured magistrate to pass them over in si lence. No doctrine can be better fitted to train up villains systematically from the cradle, than this. The truth is, no regulation established by proper authority, however insignificant it may appear, should be violated, no ordinance despised, no injunction disregarded with impunity.

If transgressors are punished in the beginning of their wickedness, we may hope for reformation. There is a progress in villany. No man ever committed murder, or treason, or burglary, as his first offence; and few men ever would commit these enormous crimes, if their first offences were properly reprehended. There is a regular and almost imperceptible gradation in iniquity, from the mischief practised by the truant school boy, to the hardy adventures of the high-handed -assassin. It is not a dictate of common sense, or sound experience, to use correction after the offender has become incor

ly engraven on the heart of every moral agent. At what time does the physician choose to heal a disorder? As soon as it is perceived? or after the functions of life are nearly suspended? At what time is the obstinacy of children most easily subdued? When the seeds of disobedience begin to sprout? when they are first caught in the ne glect of their duty? or after they are rooted in vice, and their tempers have become ungov ernable? The offender will find great reason to rejoice that he was punished in the first instance of transgression; and that, by a temporary inconvenience or mor tification, he is probably withholden from doing what would have occasioned him years of remorse, and stigmatized him with indelible infamy.

It is an invaluable blessing to have the dividing line between what is blameworthy and what is laudable, plainly and exactly drawn. It is an unspeakable privilege to have those, to whose care the execution of the laws is entrusted, zealous to fix the precise meaning of every statute. But where some of the laws are enforced, and some neglected; where some are dead, some expiring, and many in a declining state, the man is beside himself, who expects a cheerful obedi ence to the rest. He, who has frequently violated any law with impunity, soon justifies himsel in the violation of every other, and at length becomes so hárdened as to trample on every ordinance, both human and divine.

rigible. Obsta principiis, is a maxim, which ought to be deep

But the whole system of ju risprudence should be shielded from contempt; and were all


other considerations laid aside, this is abundantly sufficient to compel the greatest exactness. A contempt of the laws is a formidable enemy to government itself; an enemy, which is the more dangerous, as it cannot be met; which declines all fair and honourable war, and vanquishes by the magic of popular preju dice. A little relaxation in the distribution of justice makes way for more; a few despised regulations prepare the mind to despise the rest, till the whole code becomes the object of neglect and ridicule. A statute-book of contemned laws is fit only for inscriptions on the tomb of departed government. It is a volume of satires more poignant than those of Juvenal or Persius; satires on the legislators, the magistrates, and the people; satires, which not only cause a momentary vexation, but inflict upon the general happiness a severe and lasting wound.

Again, it is necessary to the harmony of society, that the execution of the laws be uniform and impartial. If the administration of justice is unsteady; if it vibrates from energy and rigour, to laxness and indolence, and is at one time scrupulously exact, and at another foolishly negligent; nothing permanent and salutary can be expected. And if a dignified impartiality does not characterize the judicial proceedings, it is most plain that there can be no confidence in the rulers, and that government will become the object of distrust and aversion.

ed for what are denominated the smaller kinds of offences. From their elevated situation in life, their example is dreadfully contagious. But if those, who think that the possession of property licences and sanctions their crimes, were properly humbled at the footstool of justice, their example would no longer contaminate society. And if the lower classes of the people saw that no man was superior to the laws, they would acquiesce with much greater alacrity in proper restraints, and all ranks would much more heartily engage in sacrificing individual gratification to the public welfare.

Whoever is in the least acquainted with the state of morals in our country, cannot but confess that much depends upon the execution of the laws. Who does not know that national calamities are the legitimate offspring of national vice and abandonment? And who will not acknowledge that our ration ought to be purified from sin, that the judgments, which hang over us, and which we so justly deserve, may be averted? Look around for yourselves, and consider this matter. Take a view of the fashionable vices only which now prevail; of those practised by the great, the splendid, the honourable, in situations where temptation ought to meet with a firm and an indignant repulse; and then judge what are the crimes perpetrated by those who are debased through the example of superiors; who are unenlightened by education, uninfluenced by a fear of disgrace, and destitute of every restraining principle.

Yet it is a notorious and glaring fact, that in no country under heaven, are the rich punishVol. II. No. 7.

S s

purpose of obtaining a divorce, and the adulterers suffered to go at large, detested indeed by good men, but unpunished for their crimes, and totally unnoticed by the magistrate. See the seducer practising every fiend-like artifice; committing deliberate, reiterated perjury; destroying the hopes and happiness of brothers, sisters, and parents; and enhancing his guilt by offering up others with himself at the shrine of pollution. In a part of the world where the gospel has been preached from generation to generation; among a people more favoured by Heaven than any other from the fall of man to the present time, brothels are instituted, supported, defended. Rise up, O Babylon, thou mother of harlots, and blush for our enor mities. Thy crimson abominations whiten into innocence, when compared with the more aggravated offences of a Christian land.

Contemplate the extensive prevalence of profaneness. See the earnest endeavours of wicked men to dishonour the name of God; to invent blasphemies hitherto unthought of; and to gain themselves laurels in the war against Heaven. Hear curses uttered by children unconscious of their meaning; and see the hoary driveller, with one foot in his grave, muttering execrations against his Maker and Preserver. View the drunkard, forfeiting all claim to human society, destroying his intellectual powers, and committing a sure though lingering suicide; a suicide, destroying at the same time his body and his soul. Listen to the midnight orgies of the gaming table, where robbery is legalized by the tribunal of honour, where cheating is elevated into a liberal profession, and where the grand strife is, who shall decoy most adventurers, and sacrifice them to the rapaciousness of the banditti. See the Sabbath, which ought to be a day of rest, of worship, and of instruction in holy things, converted into a day of sloth, a day of visiting, a day of unhallowed amusement, a day of feasting and riot, and, preeminently, a day of sin. See men among our Senators, Judges and Governors, foolish and mad enough to go openly and shamelessly to murdering each other in a duel; and all this under laws, which profess to guard life as a thing sacred, and under a religion, which proclaims "peace on earth," and declares, that "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." See adultery proved in our courts, time after time, for the

In this state of things, when every honest man wishes that the laws should have all possible efficacy, much dependence must be placed upon our rulers. Imagine to yourselves all our countrymen, who hold offices in the magistracy, assembled, from the President of the United States, to a Justice of the Peace, or a Grand Juror, and addressed on this important subject by some venerable civilian, like a Hale, or a Mansfield, skilled equally in law and in human nature.


"My friends, and countrymen," would he not say? use great diligence, that in all your behaviour, your example be such as may be considered a safe pattern for imitation. Transgression of the laws in a magistrate,

« PreviousContinue »