Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

SOME THOUGHTS

ON

THE APPROACHING EXECUTIONS,

HUMBLY OFFERED TO CONSIDERATION.

A

S the number of persons, convicted on ac

count of the late unhappy tumults, will probably exceed what any one's idea of vengeance or example would deliver to capital punishment, it is to be wished, that the whole business, as well with regard to the number and description of those, who are to suffer death, as with regard to those, who shall be delivered over to lighter punishment, or wholly' pardoned, should be entirely a work of

reason.

It has happened frequently, in cases of this nature, that the fate of the convicts has depended more upon the accidental circumstance of their being brought earlier or later to trial, than to any steady principle of equity applied to their several

Without great care and sobriety, criminal justice generally begins with anger, and ends in negligence. The first, that are brought forward, suffer the extremity of the law, with circumstances

of

cases.

of mitigation in their case; and, after a time, the most atrocious delinquents escape, 'merely by the satiety of punishment.

In the business now before His Majesty, the following thoughts are humbly submitted.

If I understand the temper of the publick at this moment, a very great part of the lower, and some of the middling people of this city, are in a very critical disposition, and such as ought to be managed with firmness and delicacy. In general, they rather approve than blame the principles of the rioters; though the better sort of them are afraid of the consequences of those very principles, which they approve. This keeps their minds in a suspended and anxious state, which may very easily be exasperated, by an injudicious severity, into desperate resolutions; or by weak measures, on the part of Government, it may be encouraged to the pursuit of courses, which may be of the most dangerous consequences to the publick.

There is no doubt, that the approaching executions will

very

much determine the future conduct of those people. They ought to be such as will humble, not irritate. Nothing will make Government more awful to them than to see, that it does not proceed by chance or under the influence of passion.

It is therefore proposed, that no execution should be made, until the number of persons, which

Government

Government thinks fit to try, is completed. When the whole is at once under the eye, an examination ought to be made into the circumstances of every particular convict; and six, at the very utmost, of the fittest examples may then be selected for execution, who ought to be brought out and put to death, on one and the same day, in six different places, and in the most solemn manner, that can be devised. Afterwards, great care should be taken, that their bodies may not be delivered to their friends, or to others, who may make them objects of compassion, or even veneration; some instances of the kind have happened, with regard to the bodies of those killed in the riots.

The rest of the malefactors ought to be either condemned, for larger or shorter terms, to the lighters; houses of correction; service in the navy; and the like, according to the case.

This sinall number of executions, and all at one time, though in different places, is seriously recommended; because it is certain, that a great havock among criminals hardens, rather than subdues, the minds of people inclined to the same crimes; and therefore fails of answering its purpose as an example. Men who see their lives respected and thought of value by others, come to respect that gift of God themselves. To have compassion for one-self, or to care, more or less, for one's own life, is a lesson to be learned just as every other, and I

believe

1

believe it will be found, that conspiracies have been most common and most desperate, where their punishment has been most extensive and most severe.

Besides, the least excess in this way excites a tenderness in the milder sort of people, which makes them consider Government in an harsh and odious light. The sense of justice in men is overloaded and fatigued with a long series of executions, or with such a carnage at once, as rather resembles a massacre, than a sober execution of the laws. The laws thus lose their terrour in the minds the wicked, and their reverence in the minds of the virtuous.

I have ever observed, that the execution of one man fixes the attention and excites awe; the execution of multitudes dissipates and weakens the effect: but men reason themselves into disapprobation and disgust; they compute more as they feel less; and every severe act, which does not appear to be necessary,

is sure to be offensive. In selecting the criminals, a very different line ought to be followed from that recommended by the champions of the Protestant Association. They recommend, that the offenders for plunder ought to be punished, and the offenders from principle spared. But the contrary rule ought to be followed. The ordinary executions, of which there are enough in conscience, are for the former species of delin

quents;

[ocr errors]

quents; but such common plunderers would furnish no example in the present case, where the false or pretended principle of religion, which leads to crimes, is the very thing to be discouraged.

But the reason, which ought to make these people objects of selection for punishment, confines the selection to very few. For we must consider, that the whole nation has been, for a long time, guilty of their crime. Toleration is a new virtue in any country. It is a late ripe fruit in the best climates. We ought to recollect the poison, which, under the name of antidotes against Popery, and such like mountebank titles, has been circulated from our

pulpits, and from our presses, from the heads of the attach the Church of England, and the heads of the Disove pastestant

senters. These publications, by degrees, have ism can be

tended to drive all religion from our own minds, effictually

and to fill them with nothing but a violent hatred

of the religion of other people, and, of course, with pepery,

a hatred of their persons; and so, by a very naThe mort intoluant, tural progression, they have led men to the deии,

struction of their goods and houses, and to attempts upon their lives.

This delusion furnishes no reason for suffering that thatever

abominable spirit to be kept alive by inflammatory att nypted

libels, or seditious assemblies, or for Government's te veilits nopietico, yielding to it

, in the smallest degree, any point of itidotatés justice, equity, or sound policy. The King certainly

mudera ought not to give up any part of his Subjects to the under the sacred name

prejudices

utaiteel

absuid system

qohustianty.

« ForrigeFortsæt »