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father of his people, those that rob him fall under the scripture woe, pronounced against the son ' that robbeth his father, and saith it is no sin.'
Mean as this practice is, do we not daily see people of character and fortune engaged in it for trifling advantages to themselves?-Is any lady ashamed to request of a gentleman of her acquaintance, that when he returns from abroad, he would smuggle her home a piece of silk or lace from France or Flanders? Is any gentleman ashamed to undertake and execute the commission ?—Not in the least. They will talk of it freely, even before others whose pockets they are thus contriving to pick by this piece of knavery.
Among other branches of the revenue, that of the post-office is, by a late law, appropriated to the discharge of our public debt, to defray the expenses of the state. None but members of parliament, and a few public officers, have now a right to avoid, by a frank, the payment of postage. When any letter, not written by them, or on their business, is franked by any of them, it is a hurt to the revenue, an injury which they must now take the pains to conceal by writing the whole superscription themselves. And yet such is our insensibility to justice in this particular, that nothing is more common than to see, even in a reputable company, a very honest gentleman or lady declare his or her intention to cheat the nation of threepence by a frank, and without blushing apply to one of the very legislators themselves, with a modest request, that he would be pleased to become an accomplice in the crime, and assist in the perpetration.
There are those who by these practices take a great deal in a year out of the public purse, and put the money into their own private pockets. If, passing through a room where public treasure is deposited, a man takes the opportunity of clandestinely pocketing and carrying off a guinea, is he not truly and properly a thief? And if another evades paying into the treasury a guinea he ought to pay in, and applies it to his own use, when he knows it belongs to the public as much as that which has been paid in, what difference is there in the nature of the crime, or the baseness of committing it?
Some laws make the receiving of stolen goods equally penal with stealing; and upon this principle, that if there were no receivers there would be few thieves. Our proverb too says truly, that 'the receiver is as bad as the thief.' By the same reasoning, as there would be few smugglers, if there were none who knowingly encouraged them by buying their goods, we may say, that the encouragers of smuggling are as bad as the smugglers; and that, as smugglers are a kind of thieves, both equally deserve the punishments of thievery.
In this view of wronging the revenue, what must we think of those who can evade paying for their wheels and their plate, in defiance of law and justice, and yet declaim against corruption and peculation, as if their own hands and hearts were pure and unsullied? The Americans offend us grievously, when, contrary to our laws, they smuggle goods into their own country: and yet they had no hand in making those laws. I do not however pretend from thence to justify them. But
I think the offence much greater in those who either directly or indirectly have been concerned in making the very laws they break. And when I hear them exclaiming against the Americans, and for every little infringement of the acts of trade, or obstruction given by a petty mob to an officer of our customs in that country, calling for vengeance against the whole people as rebels and traitors, I cannot help thinking there are still those in the world who can see a mote in their brother's eye, while they do not discern a beam in their own; and that the old saying is as true now as ever it was, 'one man may better steal a horse, than another look over the hedge.' Franklin.
OF IMPRISONMENT FOR DEBT.
As I was passing lately under one of the gates of this city, I was struck with horrour by a rueful ery, which summoned me to remember the poor debtors.
The wisdom and justice of the English laws are, by Englishmen at least, loudly celebrated; but scarcely the most zealous admirers of our institutions can think that law wise, which, when men are capable of work, obliges them to beg; or just, which exposes the liberty of one to the passions of another.
The prosperity of a people is proportionate to the number of hands and minds usefully employed. To the community sedition is a fever, corruption is a gangrene, and idleness an atrophy. Whatever body, and whatever society, wastes more
than it acquires, must gradually decay; and every being that continues to be fed, and ceases to labour, takes away something from the public stock.
The confinement, therefore, of any man in the sloth and darkness of a prison, is a loss to the nation, and no gain to the creditor. For of the multitudes who are pining in those cells of misery, a very small part is suspected of any fraudulent act by which they retain what belongs to others. The rest are imprisoned by the wantonness of pride, the malignity of revenge, or the acrimony of disappointed expectation.
If those, who thus rigourously exercise the power which the law has put into their hands, be asked, why they continue to imprison those whom they know to be unable to pay them: one will answer, that his debtor once lived better than himself; another, that his wife looked above her neighbours, and his children went in silk clothes to the dancing-school; and another, that he pretended to be a joker and a wit. Some will reply, that if they were in debt they should meet with the same treatment; some, that they owe no more than they can pay, and need therefore give no account of their actions. Some will confess their resolution, that their debtors shall rot in jail; and some will discover, that they hope, by cruelty, to wring the payment from their friends.
The end of all civil regulations is to secure private happiness from private malignity; to keep individuals from the power of one another; but this end is apparently neglected, when a man, irritated with loss, is allowed to be the judge of
his own cause, and to assign the punishment of his own pain; when the distinction between guilt and unhappiness, between casuality and design, is intrusted to eyes blinded with interest, to understandings depraved by resentment.
Since poverty is punished among us as a crime, it ought at least to be treated with the same lenity as other crimes; the offender ought not to languish, at the will of him whom he has offended, but to be allowed some appeal to the justice of his country. There can be no reason, why any debtor should be imprisoned, but that he may be compelled to payment; and a term should therefore be fixed, in which the creditor should exhibit his accusation of concealed property. If such property can be discovered, let it be given to the creditor; if the charge is not offered, or cannot be proved, let the prisoner be dismissed.
Those who made the laws have apparently supposed, that every deficiency of payment is the crime of the debtor. But the truth is, that the creditor alway shares the act, and often more than shares the guilt of improper trust. It seldom happens that any man imprisons another but for debts which he suffered to be contracted, in hope of advantage to himself, and for bargains in which he proportioned his profit to his own opinion of the hazard; and there is no reason why one should punish the other for a contract in which both concurred.
Many of the inhabitants of prisons may justly complain of harder treatment. He that once owes more than he can pay, is often obliged to bribe his creditor to patience, by increasing his