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turned to those gloomy abodes where the victims of injustice languished in misery and despair.
The art of printing, by which one man, however private and obscure, is enabled to make himself heard by a whole people, prepared the way for reformation. MONTESQUIEU exposed the errors of legislators, and unfolded founder principles of jurisprudence. The eloquent BECCARIA roused the attention of civilized Europe, and, by his unanswerable appeal to reason and humanity, produced those successive efforts to meliorate the systems of penal laws, which constitute the greatest glory of the present age. HOWARD,* the active and indefatigable friend of man, by exploring the prisons and dungeons of Europe, and, from their dark and unvisited receffes, bringing to light the enormous abuses and dreadful miseries produced
* The eulogium pronounced on this benevolent character by the most eloquent man of any age, cannot be too often quoted. “I cannot,” says BURKE, name this gentleman (Howard) without remarking, that his “ labours and writings have done much to open the eyes and hearts of « mankind. He has visited all Europe, not to survey the sumptuousness “ of palaces, or the stateliness of temples; not to make accurate measure“ments of the remains of ancient grandeur, nor to form a scale of the cu“ riosity of modern art; not to collect medals, or collate manuscripts ;“ but to dive into the depths of dungeons; to plunge into the infection of
hospitals; to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain; to take the guage “ and dimensions of misery, depression, and contempt; to remember the
forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken, and to compare
and collate the distresses of all men in all countries. His plan is original, and it is as full of genius as it is of humanity. It was a voyage of
discovery, a circumnavigation of charity. Already the benefit of his la“ bour is felt more or less in every country, and I hope he will anticipate his “ final reward by seeing all its effects fully realized in his own. He will “ receive, not by retail but in gross, the reward of those who visit the pri“ foner, and he has so forestalled and monopolized this branch of charity, “ that there will be I trust little room to merit by such acts of benevolence " hereafter.” (Speech at Brifol, previous to the E!: 5:01. in 1720.]
(7) by cruel laws and their corrupt administration, more powerfully awakened the feelings of humanity and justice, by which the legislator is enabled to complete the great work of corre&tion.
But while the names of MONTESQUIEU, BECCARIA and HOWARD, are repeated with gratitude and admiration, the legislators and philanthropists of our own country deserve not to be forgotten. The History of Pennsylvania presents to our view a man who claims the praise of being the first to frame and propose a criminal code from which the punishment of death was excluded, except in the single case of premeditated murder, and by which each crime received a punishment equitably proportioned to the degree of its enormity.
In England, where secret accusations, secret and mock trials, torture, and all the cruel contrivances of superstition and despotism to confound and destroy alike the innocent and the guilty, were unknown; where the excellent inftitution of a trial by jury, and humane and wise forms of legal proceedings were established for the protection of the accused; where liberty was defended by law, and cherished by the spirit and manners of the people; even in that enlightened country there existed a scale of punishments as sanguinary and unjust as any in Europe. The criminal delivered to imprisonment was often forgotten by the laws, and suffered an, aggravation of his chastisement in the loathsome horrors of his prison, and the extortions and oppression of his keepers. No adequate distinction was made, in the distribution of punish
ments, between a poacher and a parricide, between him who filched a loaf to satisfy the cravings of hunger, and him who first robbed and then murdered his benefactor.* The colonies of England adopted in general the civil and criminal laws of the parent state. In fome, the spirit of freedom which animated the first adventurers, fugitives from civil and religious tyranny, produced changes, and the gradual formation of a milder and more equitable system of penal laws.
WILLIAM PENN,+ actuated by the pure principles of a Christian and a philosopher, liftening to the fimple suggestions of humanity and justice, constructed the equitable code just mentioned, which he boldly enacted and transmitted to England to receive the royal affent, although the charter for the establishment of his colony expressly enjoined the introduction of the English laws. Assent to the new system was refused by the king, yet it was continued in force by the colonial legislature for thirty-five years. Disputes took place between the crown and the governor of Pennsylvania, concerning the ordinance requiring the officers of the government to take an oath instead of an affirmation. This contest, which kept the colony in a ferment for many years, was at length termi(9.) nated by the legißature, who consented to exchange their favourite plan of penal laws for that of the mother country. In return for this concession, the crown yielded the right of affirmation to such as conscientiously refused to take an oath.
* Blackstone's Commentaries, Vol. IV. paffim, and page 18.
" It is a “ melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions which men are daily “ liable to commit, no less than one hundred and fixty have been declared, by " act of parliament, to be felony without benefit of clergy; or, in other “ words, to be worthy of instant death.” The number of capital punishments has been considerably augmented since the publication of the Commentaries.
† See Proud's History of Pennsylvania, Bradford's Enquiry, &c.
Though restrained for a time, the spirit of reform revived with the revolution; and, strengthened by the discussions of the general principles of freedom, and the writings of BeccARIA and others, at length produced that system of punishment for crimes, which reflects so much honour on that State. The new penal laws of Pennsylvania, its prisons and penitentiary house, their progress, internal economy, and management, have been already made known by several publications.
When New-YORK became an English colony, the laws and institutions of England were introduced and continued in their full extent and rigour.
This favourite child of the crown reflected more strongly than any other the image of its parent. Even after the revolution, when the spirit of liberty led to inquiries favourable to principles of moderation and justice, the criminal code of this State was distinguished for its severity. It was not to be expected, that a people enamoured of freedom and a republic, should long acquiesce in a system of laws, many of them the product of barbarous usages, corrupt society, and monarchical principles, and imperfectly adapted to a country, simple manners, and a popular form of government.
Before giving an account of the changes that have been made in that system, it will be proper to exhibit, briefly, the several punishments as they existed antecedent to the year 1796. By a law, which bears date February 1788, the following crimes are declared punishable with death: 1. Treason; 2. Misprision of treason; 3. Murder ; 4. Rape; 5. Sodomy; 6. Burglary ; 7. Feloniously taking goods and chattels out of any church or place of public worship; 8. Feloniously breaking any house, by day or by night, any person being in the house, and thereby put in fear; 9. Robbing any person in the dwelling-house or place of such person, the owner, dweller, his wife, children, or servants being in the same, or within the precincts thereof, sleeping or waking; 10. Robbing any person ; 11. Feloniously taking away goods or chattels from a dwelling-house, the owner or any other person being therein, and put in fear; 12. Robbing any dwelling-house in the day-time, any perfon being therein ; 13. Robbing any person or perfons in or about the highway ; 14. Arson, or the wilful burning any house or barn ; 15. Malicious maiming and wounding another ; 16. Forgery, or counterfeiting any record, charter, deed, writing, sealed will, teftament, bond, bill of exchange, promissory note for the
indorfement or assignment thereof, acquittance or receipt for money or goods, any bill of credit or public securities issued by congress or any of the United States, or any gold or silver coin current in the State. The conviction of all which felonies was accompanied with a forfeiture of the goods and chattels, lands, tenements, and hereditaments of