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On this subject we have no separate accouut of the number of convictions for the forgery of bank-notes. If the proportion of Bank forgeries, to forgeries in general, be supposed to be the same throughout this period, as that which seems to be the result of the document No. 3, namely, one to fourteen, it would follow that the whole number of persons who suffered death for forgeries on the Bank, from 1749 to 1797, amounted only to eight. Though fourteen years be a time long enough for a reasonable inference; and though we have waived the advantage which the argument would receive from the addition of a probable number for country executions; yet, as the proportions may have varied at different times, we shall double, or, if the reader pleases, treble these executions,-and suppose that sixteen, or even twentyfour persons had suffered death for counterfeiting bank-notes in the half century which preceded the stoppage of payment by the Bank of England.-Yet even this number, inconsiderable as it now appears, was sufficient at that time to excite the disapprobation of wise, and the indignation of good men, against laws which inflicted death on such a crime as forgery, and offered human sacrifices to the Moloch of Paper Credit. But these execu tions were at least efficacious. Punishment invariably followed the proof of guilt. The time was not yet come when the number
The number of executions in London and Middlesex, for forgery, from 1749 to 1782, is stated by Sir Theodore Janson's Abstract, published by Mr Howard, to have been 71; while the Parliamentary Abstract makes them only 46. This is the more singular, because in the annual number of executions for all offences they nearly agree. We prefer the authority of the Parliamentary Return, because it gives the annual number of executions for forgery, of which Sir T. Janson states only the sum-total.
of convictions rendered the uniform execution of the law too horrible to be hazarded. Criminal justice had not become a lottery, in which it was a mere chance whether a man guilty of forgery should escape being transported or be hanged The guilty were generally persons above the ordinary condition, whose tale grew into a sort of popular tragedy; and as the circumstances of their death were often very affecting, the example became in the same proportion terrible. The class of men then generally convicted, susceptible of shame, and not insensible to danger, were peculiarly likely to be deterred by the punishment. The principals were usually detected; and the combination of deliberate fraud with considerable pecuniary advantage, deadened the feelings of the public for their fate.
The year 1798 opened a new scene. The act for authorizing the Bank of England to stop payment, passed in 1797; and another act was passed in the same year, the necessary consequence of the former, but still more directly applicable to our present purpose-to enable the Bank to issue notes under the value of five pounds. The number of those who suffered death for the forgery of bank-notes in 1798 and the two succeeding years, was twice or thrice as great as that of all who had suffered for the same offence for fifty years before the Suspension. From a return of nil,' in the eight years before 1797, we suddenly pass to a return of a hundred and forty-six capital executions, for this offence, in the eight years which followed that unfortunate year! From three executions in the fourteen years before the Suspension, the number becomes two hundred and nine in the fourteen after it. In the last twentyone years of cash payment there were five or six executions for forgery. In the twenty-one which we have passed under the destroying power of compulsory paper, three hundred and thirteen persons have suffered death for counterfeiting bank-notes!
These frightful contrasts multiply at every change of our point of view. Four prosecutions for forgery by the Bank of England are to be found from 1783 to 1797. In the equal period from 1797 to 1811, the number is 469!-They were multiplied more than a hundred fold !-Well might the preamble of a statute passed in 1801, recite, that 'THE FORGERY OF BANK-NOTES HAS OF LATE increased VERY MUCH IN THIS KINGDOM!'* but the preamble does not confess the whole truth.-Even at that time it was not an offence increased, but an offence created. One fatal measure of State had, even then, caused more blood VOL. XXXI. NO. 61. O
* 41 Geo. III. chap. 49.
to flow for forgery in three years than had been shed in England for that offence during fifty years before. Perhaps no civilized government has by one act given so dreadful a wound to the morality of a people. The visible connexion between the issue of small notes and the effusion of blood, is one of the most frightful parts of this case. Before 1797, the Bank could issue no notes under 5l.: In 1802, the average number of notes under that value was about three millions and a half. In the former periods there were no capital executions: In the latter, 116 occurred in four years. In 1817, there were 30,000 forged notes stopped at the Bank of 17. and 27.-900 of 5l.-50 of 10%, and 2 of 201. The whole crime is in truth imputable to the small notes. The forgery of the larger we are authorized, by the experience of the former period, entirely to ascribe to the habits of criminality which originated in the temptation of small notes. We have been foolishly told that the increase (as it is called) of forgeries is only a part of the general progress of criminality. The sudden leap made by forgery in 1798, is a sufficient answer. There is no parallel case in any other crime or country. Other very dangerous crimes have diminished in the same period; and it is more reasonable to ascribe a great part of the increase of some other offences to the progress of that depravity to which the forgery of bank paper gave the first impulse.
It was at first supposed that some compensation for the inerease of forgery might be found in the abatement of offences relating to the coin. The return of prosecutions by the Mint from 1783 to 1818, soon dispelled that illusion. The same persons then said, that forgery had augmented only in the same proportion with coining: And some have been so foolish as even lately to repeat this assertion. The same document will, it is to be hoped, silence them. In the seven years before the Suspension, the convictions for coining were 380. In the seven years which followed, they were 558. Instead of rising, like the forgeries, from 0 to 146, they augmented at a rate not much exceeding that of other crimes.
The various Returns which contain the above information, were not obtained without struggle. Much resistance was made to the production of many of them. More was threatened, and abandoned only on the eve of a division, when it was apparent that all resistance would prove vain. When a motion was made for a Parliamentary Committee to inquire whether any means could be devised to increase the difficulty of forging bank-notes, it was found no longer possible to resist investigation; and the Ministers contented themselves with substituting a commission under the Great Seal for a Committee
of the House of Commons. Whether they did well in this substitution, is no longer a practical question. The Commissioners were, in general, very well chosen. But though the Directors of the Bank are respectable men, and were in this inquiry indispensable witnesses, it is really an affront to common sense, that any of them should be named Commissioners to inquire into their own conduct.
We do not, of course, presume to know the proceedings, the success, or the expectations of the Commissioners. It has been generally reported that they have had before them two or three hundred plans, including the rejected projects from the Bank; that a very small number of these plans have been thought to deserve serious consideration; and that, even of them, the most specious afford only a hope of diminishing the facility of forgery, though in what degree, and to what extent, can be ascertained by experiment alone. Whatever the result of their investigation may be, it cannot fail to be of great importance. If it should terminate in the discovery of a plan which offers a high probability of very considerably lessening the ease with which bank paper is now counterfeited, it will not only tend to stop the progress of crimes and the effusion of blood, but it will be one of the greatest improvements on a paper money, which, under all circumstances, must continue to form an important part of our circulation. If it should appear that there is no such probability of considerable abatement, it must be universally seen, and, we hope, will be authoritatively stated, that the resumption of cash payments is the only effectual remedy against the multiplication of forgeries,-which multiplied executions seem hitherto not in the least degree to have retarded, and which must ultimately involve in general confusion all the dealings and transactions of men. In either of these cases, the duty of the Commissioners will be simple. Should they adopt a middle course, that duty will not be so easy. On questions which relate to degrees of probability and of efficacy, it is very difficult to form a just opinion; and far from easy to convey it, when formed, into the minds of other It requires the utmost caution and exactness of language to prevent misconceptions, which may be attended by the most fatal consequences. A slight exaggeration-a hope raised one degree above reason, may become a public misfortune. The Report of the Commissioners will affect the determination of the momentous question, whether cash payments are to be resumed. To the protection of a plan recommended by them, may, perhaps, be entrusted the property, the morals, the good order of
the kingdom. They are a Jury, on whose verdict the lives of multitudes of men may depend.
It must not be forgotten, that an improvement in bank paper, far short of what could be accepted as a substitute for cash payments, would be an object of the utmost public importance.When that paper is restored to its original character, and once more rendered secure against the evil of excessive issue, it will still be liable to attacks from the other evil of forgery, which has arisen and become formidable during the fatal period when payments were not made in money. The former mischief may be immediately removed; but the effects of the latter must continue, in some degree, for some time. When we return to our ancient system, we ought to return to that part of it which consisted in the prohibition of the issue of notes under five pounds. The great body of forgeries consists in notes of one pound. In the last year they were about thirty thousand. But the crime created by these small notes has spread to the larger, which, when they circulated alone, can scarcely be said to have been forged at all. Five hundred forged notes, of ten pounds and upwards, appear to have been detected in the last year by the Bank. How many more never reached them, we cannot conjecture. They were probably numerous;-though we should be inclined to make a large deduction from the estimate of a respectable Member of Parliament, who said that half the Bank of England notes circulated in the three Northern Counties were forgeries. After the resumption, indeed, of cash payments, forgery of the large notes will be immediately limited by the skill and leisure of the class among whom they circulate, and by the facility of refusing paper when there is a power of procuring money. But in whatever degree the forgeries may be reduced, it will be of great importance to protect the paper against them, by improvements in its structure, especially for the time which must elapse before the habits of depravity produced by the Suspension shall be in a great measure worn out. We may reasonably hope that the labours of the Commissioners may discover such an improvement as may strengthen the natural securities of the large notes, after they are again rendered convertible into money.
To complete this view of the subject, we must conclude with a short account of the judicial proceedings relating to the forgery of bank notes since the dissolution of Parliament. During the Summer Assizes, we recollect no capital conviction for this crime. In the state of the public temper on this subject, the Bank seems to have thought it more prudent to prosecute only for the transportable offence, of knowingly possessing forged notes. In one case, a Jury acquitted a man charged with forgery,