Page images

manslaughter, and that for the highest degree of manslaughter there should be the highest kind of secondary punishment, and that the power should be placed in the hands of the jury of determining what should be the particular class in which the criminal should be placed. There is no doubt that this is necessary to be done. I think Voltaire-who said a good many things that were worth remembering-remarked that the English were the only people who murdered by law. And Mirabeau, when in this country, hearing of a number of persons who had been hanged on a certain morning, said, “The English nation is the most merciless of any' that I have heard or read of.” And at this very moment, when we have struck off within the last fifty years at least a hundred offences which were then capital, we remain still in this matter the most merciless of Christian countries.'

The hon. member referred to the cases of Townley, Wright, and Hall, and affirmed that there was not a country in Europe, nor a free State in America, in which either of those criminals would have been punished with death. Yet Sir George Grey continued to repeat the same arguments for continuing a law which drove him to distraction almost every time he had to administer it. 'I am surprised that the right hon. gentleman, who has had to face the suffering which has been brought on him by this law, has never had the courage to come to this House and ask it fairly to consider, in the light of the evidence which all other Governments and the laws of all other countries afford, whether the time has not come when this fearful punishment may be abolished. The right hon. gentleman says the punishment is so terrible that it will deter offenders from the commission of crime. Of course it is terrible to one just standing upon the verge of the grave; but months before, when the crime is committed, when the passion

is upon the criminal, the punishment is of no avail whatsoever. I do not think it is possible to say too much against the argument that because this is a dreadful punishment, it is very efficient to deter a criminal from the commission of crime.'

Having cited the humane position on this question occupied by Russia, Tuscany, Belgium, etc., Mr. Bright asked whether there was any man with a particle of sense or the power of reason who believed that human life in this country was made more secure because ten or twelve men were publicly put to death every year. The security for human life depended upon the reverence for human life; and unless we could inculcate in the minds of the people a veneration for that which God only had given, we did little by the most severe and barbarous penalties to preserve the safety of our citizens. Mr. Bright then read some interesting extracts from letters written by the Governors of the three states of Rhode Island, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where the death penalty had been abolished, showing the salutary results of the abolition.

The special cases which had been cited that night with regard to executions were not, he continued, by any means the most fearful that had occurred. There was a case at Chester which must rejoice the fiends below, if fiends there be, to discover that, after the law of gentleness and love had been preached on earth for eighteen hundred years, such a scene as that could be enacted in our day in one of the most civilized and renowned cities of the country. And these were cases which would happen again if this law remained; and all the difficulties which the right hon. gentleman had alluded to that night and on previous occasions were difficulties inseparable from the continuance of the punishment. Parliament had unfortunately been very heedless

upon this question; and Secretaries of State had gone on with their painful duties, never having the courage to ask Parliament to consider whether the system might not be entirely abolished. It was in opposition to the sentiment of the most moral and religious population of the country. Whenever the announcement of an impending execution was made, there was a feeling of doubt in almost every house in England as to whether the law was right, and a feeling of disgust and horror amongst hundreds of thousands of the best portion of the people.

None of us wished to go back to the state of barbarism of a century ago when so many men were hanged, not one of whom had been convicted of the crime of murder; but just the same class of arguments were used then in support of such barbarism as were used at the present time. He wondered that the Home Secretary had not been driven to propose to the House that this evil should be put an end to. Was the Englishman worse than any other man? Was the nation worse than other nations, that the same lenient laws could not be practised ? For himself, he said we could wash vengeance and blood from our code without difficulty and without danger.

As to the composition of the proposed Commission, Mr. Bright said he hoped it would not be formed of Judges, for in all past times a majority of them had been opposed to the amelioration of the Criminal Code. With a Commission so constituted as to command the confidence of all, he believed that a great improvement of the law would be effected, though all might not be achieved that Mr. Ewart desired. But in time they might arrive unanimously at the opinion, that the security of public or private life in England did not depend upon the public strangling of three or four poor wretches every year. This Parliament is about to expire, I suppose, before very long-though some say it is to endure during another session; I should be glad indeed if it might be said of this Parliament at some future time, that it had dared to act upon the true lessons, and not upon the superstitions of the past; and that it might be declared to be the Parliament which destroyed the scaffold and the gallows, in order that it might teach the people that human life is sacred, and that on that principle alone can human life be secured.'

At the close of the debate, the amendment and motion were withdrawn, and this substantive resolution, moved by Mr. Neate, was agreed to: 'That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be graciously pleased to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the provisions and operation of the laws under which the punishment of death is now inflicted in the United Kingdom, and the VOL. II.


manner in which it is inflicted; and to report whether it is desirable to make any alteration therein.'

One other question, that relating to temperance and the Permissive Bill, remains to be dealt with here. Mr. Bright is well known to be an abstemious man, and in a speech made at the annual meeting of the Society of Friends a few years ago, he stated that be would not say he had abstained for so long a period as thirty-five years, but for thirty-four years—from the time he became a householder-he had not introduced into his house any wine or spirituous liquors whatsoever. He had in his house no decanters, and he thought he had no wine-glasses, and had not had them since 1839, when he took to housekeeping. It had, perhaps, cost him some slight inconvenience, but altogether he had had no occasion to regret the step he then took.

Holding such views, and after so long a practice of personal abstinence, interest naturally attaches to the arguments which led Mr. Bright to oppose the Permissive Bill as he did in 1864. Mr. (now Sir Wilfrid) Lawson brought forward the bill in question, whereby it was proposed to make the issue of licences for the sale of intoxicating liquors subject to the veto of a given proportion of the ratepayers in a district. A good deal of interest was excited in the country over this proposition, and when the second reading came on in the House of Commons, on the 8th of June, a lengthy debate ensued. Captain Jervis moved the rejection of the bill.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »