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Highwaymen Labouring on the Highway
IN an age abandoned to dissipation, and when the ties of religion and morality fail to have their accustomed influence on the mind, the publication of a New Work of his nature makes its appearance with peculiar propriety.
It has not been unusual, of late years, to complain of the sanguinary complexion of our laws; and if there were any reason to expect that the practice of felony would be lessened by the institution of any laws less sanguinary than those now in force, it would be a good argument for the enacting of such laws.
Wise and virtuous legislators can wish nothing more ardently than the general welfare of the community; and those who have from time to time given birth to the laws of England, have indisputably done it with a view to this general welfare. But as the wisest productions of the human mind are liable to error, and as there is visibly an increasing depravity in the manners of the age, it is no wonder that our laws are found, in some instances, inadequate to the purposes for which they were enacted: and, perhaps, if, in a few instances they were made more, and in others less severe than they are at present, the happiest consequences might result to the public.
It is with the utmost deference to the wisdom of their superiors, that the editors of this work offer the following hints for the improvement of the police of this country, and the security of the lives and properties of the subject: and,
1stly. If his majesty would be graciously pleased to let the law operate in its full force against every convicted house-breaker, it would probably greatly lessen the number of those atrocious offenders; and consequently add to the repose of every family of property in the kingdom. What can be conceived more dreadful than a band of ruffians drawing the curtains of the bed at midnight, and presenting the drawn dagger, and the loaded pistol? The imagination will paint the terrors of such a situation, in a light more striking than language can display them.
2dly. If the same royal prerogative was exerted for the punishment of women convicts, it would indisputably produce very happy effects. It is to the low and abandoned women that hundreds of young fellows owe their destruction. They rob, they plunder, to support these wretches. Let it not seem cruel that we make one remark, of which we are convinced experience would justify the propriety. The execution of ten women would do more public service than that of an hundred men; for, exclusive of the force of example, it would perhaps tend to the preservation of more than an hundred.
3dly. Notorious defrauds, by gambling, or otherwise, should he rendered capital felonies by a statute; for, as the law now stands, after a temporary punishment, the common cheat is turned loose to make fresh depredations on the public.
4thly. Forgery, enormous as the crime is, in a commercial state, might perhaps be more effectually punished and prevented than at present, by dooming the convict to labour for life on board the ballast-lighters. Forgers are seldom among the low and abandoned part of mankind. Forgery is very often the last dreadful refuge to which the distressed tradesman flies. These people then are sensible of shame, and perpetual infamy would be abundantly more terrible to such men than the mere dread of death.
5thly. Highwaymen, we conceive, might with propriety be punished by labouring on the high-way, chained by the legs, agreeable to a design we have given in a plate in this work. Many a young fellow is hardened enough to think of taking a purse on the highway, to supply his extravagancies, who would be terrified from the practice, if he knew he could not ride half a dozen miles out of London, without seeing a number of highwaymen working together, under the ignominious circumstances above-mentioned.
With regard to murderers, and persons convicted of unnatural crimes, we cannot think of altering the present mode of punishment. 'Him that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed:' as to the other wretches, it is highly to be lamented that their deaths cannot be aggravated by every species of torment!
Having said thus much, we submit our labours to the candid revision of the public, nothing doubting that, on a careful perusal, they will be found to answer the purpose of guarding the minds of youth against the approaches of vice; and, in consequence, of advancing the happiness of the community.