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CHAPTER I.: OF THE NATURE OF CRIMES, AND THEIR PUNISHMENT. - Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 2 
Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Notes selected from the editions of Archibold, Christian, Coleridge, Chitty, Stewart, Kerr, and others, Barron Field’s Analysis, and Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood. In Two Volumes. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893).
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OF THE NATURE OF CRIMES, AND THEIR PUNISHMENT.
We are now arrived at the fourth and last branch of these commentaries, which treats of public wrongs, or crimes and misdemesnours. For we may remember that, in the beginning of the preceding book,(a) wrongs were divided into two species: the one private, and the other public. Private wrongs, which are frequently termed civil injuries, were the subject of that entire book: we are now therefore, lastly, to proceed to the consideration of public wrongs, or crimes and misdemesnours; with the means of their prevention and punishment. In the pursuit of which subject I shall consider, in the first place, the general nature of crimes and punishments; secondly, the persons capable of committing crimes; thirdly, their several degrees of guilt as principals, or accessaries; *[*2fourthly, the several species of crimes, with the punishment annexed to each by the laws of England; fifthly, the means of preventing their perpetration; and, sixthly, the method of inflicting those punishments which the law has annexed to each several crime and misdemesnour.
First, as to the general nature of crimes, and their punishment; the discussion and admeasurement of which forms in every country the code of criminal law; or, as it is more usually denominated with us in England, the doctrine of the pleas of the crown; so called because the king, in whom centres the majesty of the whole community, is supposed by the law to be the person injured by every infraction of the public rights belonging to that community, and is therefore in all cases the proper prosecutor for every public offence.(b)
The knowledge of this branch of jurisprudence, which teaches the nature, extent, and degrees of every crime, and adjusts to it its adequate and necessary penalty, is of the utmost importance to every individual in the state. For (as a very great master of the crown-law(c) has observed upon a similar occasion) no rank or elevation in life, no uprightness of heart, no prudence or circumspection of conduct, should tempt a man to conclude that he may not at some time or other be deeply interested in these researches. The infirmities of the best among us, the vices and ungovernable passions of others, the instability of all human affairs, and the numberless unforeseen events which the compass of a day may bring forth, will teach us (upon a moment’s reflection) that to know with precision what the laws of our country have forbidden, and the deplorable consequences to which a wilful disobedience may expose us, is a matter of universal concern.
In proportion to the importance of the criminal law ought also to be the care and attention of the legislature in properly forming and enforeing it. It should be founded upon principles that are permanent, uniform, **3]and universal; and always conformable to the dictates of truth and justice, the feelings of humanity, and the indelible rights of mankind: though it sometimes (provided there be no transgression of these external boundaries) may be modified, uarrowed, or enlarged, according to the local or occasional necessities of the state which it is meant to govern. And yet, either from a want of attention to these principles in the first concoction of the laws, and adopting in their stead the impetuous dictates of avarice, ambition, and revenge; from retaining the discordant political regulations, which successive conquerors or factions have established in the various revolutions of government; from giving a lasting efficacy to sanctions that were intended to be temporary, and made (as lord Bacon expresses it) merely upon the spur of the occasion; or from, lastly, too hastily employing such means as are greatly disproportionate to their end, in order to check the progress of some very prevalent offence: from some, or from all, of these causes, it hath happened that the criminal law is in every country of Europe more rude and imperfect than the civil. I shall not here enter into any minute inquiries concerning the local constitutions of other nations; the inhumanity and mistaken policy of which have been sufficiently pointed out by ingenious writers of their own.(d) But even with us in England, where our crown law is with justice supposed to be more nearly advanced to perfection; where crimes are more accurately defined, and penalties less uncertain and arbitrary; where all our accusations are public, and our **4]trials in the face of the world; where torture is unknown, and every delinquent is judged by such of his equals against whom he can form no exception nor even a personal dislike;—even here we shall occasionally find room to remark some particulars that seem to want revision and amendment. These have chiefly arisen from too scrupulous an adherence to some rules of the antient common law, when the reasons have ceased upon which those rules were founded; from not repealing such of the old penal laws as are either obsolete or absurd; and from too little care and attention in framing and passing new ones. The enacting of penalties, to which a whole nation should be subject, ought not to be left as a matter of indifference to the passions or interests of a few, who upon temporary motives may prefer or support such a bill; but be calmly and maturely considered by persons who know what provisions the laws have already made to remedy the mischief complained of, who can from experience foresee the probable consequences of those which are now proposed, and who will judge without passion or prejudice how adequate they are to the evil. It is never usual in the house of peers even to read a private bill, which may affect the property of an individual, without first referring it to some of the learned judges and hearing their report thereon.(e) And surely equal precaution is necessary when laws are to be established which may affect the property, the liberty, and perhaps even the lives of thousands. Had such a reference taken place, it is impossible that in the eighteenth century it could ever have been made a capital crime to break down (however maliciously) the mound of a fish-pond, whereby any fish shall escape; or to cut down a cherry-tree in an orchard.(f)1 Were even a committee appointed but once in a hundred years to revise the criminal law, it could not have continued to this hour a felony, without benefit of clergy, to be seen for one month in the company of persons who call themselves, or are called, Egyptians.(g)2
It is true that these outrageous penalties, being seldom or never inflicted, are hardly known to be law by the public; *[*5but that rather aggravates the mischief, by laying a snare for the unwary. Yet they cannot but occur to the observation of any one who hath undertaken the task of examining the great outlines of the English law, and tracing them up to their principles; and it is the duty of such a one to hint them with decency to those whose abilities and stations enable them to apply the remedy.3 Having therefore premised this apology for some of the ensuing remarks, which might otherwise seem to savour of arrogance, I proceed now to consider (in the first place) the general nature of crimes.
I. A crime or misdemeanour is an act committed or omitted, in violation of a public law either forbidding or commanding it. This general definition comprehends both crimes and misdemeanours, which, properly speaking, are mere synonymous terms; though, in common usage, the word “crimes” is made to denote such offences as are of a deeper and more atrocious dye; while smaller faults, and omissions of less consequence, are comprised under the gentler names of “misdemeanours” only.4
The distinction of public wrongs from private, of crimes and misdemeanours from civil injuries, seems principally to consist in this: that private wrongs, or civil injuries, are an infringement or privation of the civil rights which belong to individuals, considered merely as individuals; public wrongs, or crimes and misdemeanours, are a breach and violation of the public rights and duties due to the whole community, considered as a community, in its social aggregate capacity. As, if I detain a field from another man, to which the law has given him a right, this is a civil injury, and not a crime; for here only the right of an individual is concerned, and it is immaterial to the public which of us is in possession of the land: but treason, murder, and robbery are properly ranked among crimes, since, besides the injury done to individuals, they strike at the very being of society, which cannot possibly subsist where actions of this sort are suffered to escape with impunity.5
In all cases the crime includes an injury: every public offence is also a private wrong, and somewhat more; it affects the individual, and it likewise affects the community. **6]Thus, treason in imagining the king’s death involves in it conspiracy against an individual, which is also a civil injury; but, as this species of treason, in its consequences, principally tends to the dissolution of government, and the destruction thereby of the order and peace of society, this denominates it a crime of the highest magnitude. Murder is an injury to the life of an individual; but the law of society considers principally the loss which the state sustains by being deprived of a member, and the pernicious example thereby set for others to do the like. Robbery may be considered in the same view: it is an injury to private property; but, were that all, a civil satisfaction in damages might atone for it; the public mischief is the thing for the prevention of which our laws have made it a capital offence. In these gross and atrocious injuries the private wrong is swallowed up in the public: we seldom hear any mention made of satisfaction to the individual, the satisfaction to the community being so very great. And, indeed, as the public crime is not otherwise avenged than by forfeiture of life and property, it is impossible afterwards to make any reparation for the private wrong, which can only be had from the body or goods of the aggressor.6 But there are crimes of an inferior nature, in which the public punishment is not so severe but it affords room for a private compensation also; and herein the distinction of crimes from civil injuries is very apparent. For instance: in the case of battery, or beating another, the aggressor may be indicted for this at the suit of the king, for disturbing the public peace, and be punished criminally by fine and imprisonment; and the party beaten may also have his private remedy by action of trespass for the injury which he in particular sustains, and recover a civil satisfaction in damages.7 So, also, in case of a public nuisance, as digging a ditch across a highway: this is punishable by indictment as a common offence to the whole kingdom and all his majesty’s subjects; but if any individual sustains any special *[*7damage thereby, as laming his horse, breaking his carriage, or the like, the offender may be compelled to make ample satisfaction, as well for the private injury as for the public wrong.
Upon the whole, we may observe that, in taking cognizance of all wrongs or unlawful acts, the law has a double view, viz.: not only to redress the party injured by either restoring to him his right, if possible, or by giving him an equivalent, the manner of doing which was the object of our inquiries in the preceding book of these commentaries, but also to secure to the public the benefit of society, by preventing or punishing every breach and violation of those laws which the sovereign power has thought proper to establish for the government and tranquillity of the whole. What those breaches are, and how prevented or punished, are to be considered in the present book.
II. The nature of crimes and misdemeanours in general being thus ascertained and distinguished, I proceed, in the next place, to consider the general nature of punishments, which are evils or inconveniences consequent upon crimes and misdemeanours; being devised, denounced, and inflicted, by human laws, in consequence of disobedience or misbehaviour in those to regulate whose conduct such laws were respectively made. And herein we will briefly consider the power, the end, and the measure, of human punishment.
1. As to the power of human punishment, or the right of the temporal legislator to inflict discretionary penalties for crimes and misdemeanours(h) It is clear that the right of punishing crimes against the law of nature, as murder, and the like, is, in a state of mere nature, vested in every individual. For it must be vested in somebody; otherwise the laws of nature would be vain and fruitless, if none were empowered to put them in execution: and, if that power is vested in any one, it must also be vested in all mankind, *[*8since all are by nature equal. Whereof the first murderer, Cain, was so sensible, that we find him(i) expressing his apprehensions that whoever should find him would slay him. In a state of society this right is transferred from individuals to the sovereign power; whereby men are prevented from being judges in their own causes, which is one of the evils that civil government was intended to remedy. Whatever power, therefore, individuals had of punishing offences against the law of nature, that is now vested in the magistrate alone, who bears the sword of justice by the consent of the whole community. And to this precedent natural power of individuals must be referred that right, which some have argued to belong to every state, (though, in fact, never exercised by any,) of punishing not only their own subjects, but also foreign ambassadors, even with death itself, in case they have offended, not indeed against the municipal laws of the country, but against the divine laws of nature, and become liable thereby to forfeit their lives for their guilt.(k)
As to offences merely against the laws of society, which are only mala prohibita, and not mala in se, the temporal magistrate is also empowered to inflict coercive penalties for such transgressions, and this by the consent of individuals who, in forming societies, did either tacitly or expressly invest the sovereign power with the right of making laws, and of enforcing obedience to them when made by exercising, upon their non-observance, severities adequate to the evil. The lawfulness, therefore, of punishing such criminals, is founded upon this principle, that the law by which they suffer was made by their own consent: it is a part of the original contract into which they entered when first they engaged in society; it was calculated for, and has long contributed to, their own security.
This right, therefore, being thus conferred by universal consent, gives to the state exactly the same power, and no more, over all its members, as each individual member had naturally over himself or others, which has **9]occasioned some to doubt how far a human legislature ought to inflict capital punishments for positive offences,—offences against the municipal law only, and not against the law of nature,—since no individual has, naturally, a power of inflicting death upon himself or others for actions in themselves indifferent. With regard to offences mala in se, capital punishments are in some instances inflicted by the immediate command of God himself to all mankind; as in the case of murder, by the precept delivered to Noah, their common ancestor and representative, “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”(l) In other instances they are inflicted after the example of the Creator in his positive code of laws for the regulation of the Jewish republic; as in the case of the crime against nature. But they are sometimes inflicted without such express warrant or example, at the will and discretion of the human legislature; as for forgery, for theft, and sometimes for offences of a lighter kind. Of these we are principally to speak, as these crimes are none of them offences against natural, but only against social rights, not even theft itself, unless it be accompanied with violence to one’s house or person; all others being an infringement of that right of property which, as we have formerly seen,(m) owes its origin not to the law of nature, but merely to civil society.8
The practice of inflicting capital punishments, for offences of human institution, is thus justified by that great and good man, Sir Matthew Hale:(n) “When offences grow enormous, frequent, and dangerous to a kingdom or state, destructive or highly pernicious to civil societies, and to the great insecurity and danger of the kingdom or its inhabitants, severe punishment, and even death itself, is necessary to be annexed to laws in many cases by the prudence of lawgivers.” It is therefore the enormity or dangerous tendency of the crime that alone can warrant any earthly legislature in putting him to death that commits it. **10]It is not its frequency only, or the difficulty of otherwise preventing it, that will excuse our attempting to prevent it by a wanton effusion of human blood. For though the end of punishment is to deter men from offending, it never can follow from thence that it is lawful to deter them at any rate and by any means; since there may be unlawful methods of enforcing obedience even to the justest laws. Every humane legislator will be therefore extremely cautious of establishing laws that inflict the penalty of death, especially for slight offences or such as are merely positive. He will expect a better reason for his so doing than that loose one which generally is given,—that it is found by former experience that no lighter penalty will be effectual. For is it found upon further experience that capital punishments are more effectual? Was the vast territory of all the Russias worse regulated under the late empress Elizabeth than under her more sanguinary predecessors? Is it now, under Catherine III., less civilized, less social, less secure? And yet we are assured, that neither of these illustrious princesses have, throughout their whole administration, inflicted the penalty of death; and the latter has, upon full persuasion of its being useless, nay, even pernicious, given orders for abolishing it entirely throughout her extensive dominions.(o) But, indeed, were capital punishments proved by experience to be a sure and effectual remedy, that would not prove the necessity (upon which the justice and propriety depend) of inflicting them upon all occasions when other expedients fail. I fear this reasoning would extend a great deal too far. For instance, the damage done to our public roads by loaded wagons is universally allowed, and many laws have been made to prevent it; none of which have hitherto proved effectual. But it does not therefore follow that it would be just for the legislature to inflict death upon every obstinate carrier who defeats or eludes the provision of former statutes. Where the evil to be prevented is not adequate to the violence of the preventive, a sovereign that thinks seriously can never justify such a law to the dictates of *[*11conscience and humanity. To shed the blood of our fellow-creature is a matter that requires the greatest deliberation and the fullest conviction of our own authority: for life is the immediate gift of God to man; which neither he can resign, nor can it be taken from him, unless by the command or permission of Him who gave it; either expressly revealed, or collected from the laws of nature or society by clear and undisputable demonstration.
I would not be understood to deny the right of the legislature in any country to enforce its own laws by the death of the transgressor, though persons of some abilities have doubted it; but only to suggest a few hints for the consideration of such as are, or may hereafter become, legislators. When a question arises, whether death may be lawfully inflicted for this or that transgression, the wisdom of the laws must decide it; and to this public judgment or decision all private judgments must submit; else there is an end of the first principle of all society and government. The guilt of blood, if any, must lie at their doors who misinterpret the extent of their warrant, and not at the doors of the subject, who is bound to receive the interpretations that are given by the sovereign power.
2. As to the end or final cause of human punishments. This is not by way of atonement or expiation for the crime committed; for that must be left to the just determination of the Supreme Being; but as a precaution against future offences of the same kind. This is effected three ways: either by the amendment of the offender himself; for which purpose all corporal punishments, fines, and temporary exile or imprisonment are inflicted; or by deterring others by the dread of his example from offending in the like way, “ut pœna (as Tully(p) expresses it) ad paucos, metus ad omnes perveniat;” which gives rise to all ignominious punishments, and to such executions of justice as are open and public: *[*12or, lastly, by depriving the party injuring of the power to do future mischief; which is effected by either putting him to death, or condemning him to perpetual confinement, slavery, or exile. The same one end of preventing future crimes is endeavoured to be answered by each of these three species of punishment. The public gains equal security, whether the offender himself be amended by wholesome correction, or whether he be disabled from doing any further harm; and if the penalty fails of both these effects, as it may do, still, the terror of his example remains as a warning to other citizens. The method, however, of inflicting punishment ought always to be proportioned to the particular purpose it is meant to serve, and by no means to exceed it: therefore the pains of death, and perpetual disability by exile, slavery, or imprisonment, ought never to be inflicted but when the offender appears incorrigible: which may be collected either from a repetition of minuter offences, or from the perpetration of some one crime of deep malignity which of itself demonstrates a disposition without hope or probability of amendment: and in such cases it would be cruelty to the public to defer the punishment of such a criminal till he had an opportunity of repeating perhaps the worst of villanies.
3. As to the measure of human punishments. From what has been observed in the former articles, we may collect, that the quantity of punishment can never be absolutely determined by any standing invariable rule; but it must be left to the arbitration of the legislature to inflict such penalties as are warranted by the laws of nature and society, and such as appear to be the best calculated to answer the end of precaution against future offences.
Hence it will be evident that what some have so highly extolled for its equity, the lex talionis, or law of retaliation, can never be in all cases an adequate or permanent rule of punishment. In some cases indeed it seems to be dictated by natural reason; as in the case of conspiracies to do an injury, or false accusations of the innocent; to which we may add that law of the Jews and Egyptians, mentioned by **13]Josephus and Diodorus Siculus, that whoever without sufficient cause was found with any mortal poison in his custody should himself be obliged to take it. But, in general, the difference of persons, place, time, provocation, or other circumstances may enhance or mitigate the offence; and in such cases retaliation can never be a proper measure of justice. If a nobleman strikes a peasant, all mankind will see that if a court of justice awards a return of the blow it is more than a just compensation. On the other hand, retaliation may sometimes be too easy a sentence; as, if a man maliciously should put out the remaining eye of him who had lost one before, it is too slight a punishment for the maimer to lose only one of his: and therefore the law of the Locrians, which demanded an eye for an eye, was in this instance judiciously altered by decreeing, in imitation of Solon’s laws,(q) that he who struck out the eye of a one-eyed man should lose both his own in return. Besides, there are very many crimes that will in no shape admit of these penalties without manifest absurdity and wickedness. Theft cannot be punished by theft, defamation by defamation, forgery by forgery, adultery by adultery, and the like. And we may add, that those instances, wherein retaliation appears to be used, even by the divine authority, do not really proceed upon the rule of exact retribution, by doing to the criminal the same hurt he has done to his neighbour, and no more; but this correspondence between the crime and punishment is barely a consequence from some other principle. Death is ordered to be punished with death; not because one is equivalent to the other, for that would be expiation, and not punishment. Nor is death always an equivalent for death: the execution of a needy decrepit assassin is a poor satisfaction for the murder of a nobleman in the bloom of his youth and full enjoyment of his friends, his honours, and his fortune. But the reason upon which this sentence is grounded seems to be that this is the highest penalty that man can inflict, **14]and tends most to the security of mankind, by removing one murderer from the earth and setting a dreadful example to deter others; so that even this grand instance proceeds upon other principles than those of retaliation. And truly, if any measure of punishment is to be taken from the damage sustained by the sufferer, the punishment ought rather to exceed than equal the injury: since it seems contrary to reason and equity that the guilty (if convicted) should suffer no more than the innocent has done before him; especially as the suffering of the innocent is past and irrevocable, that of the guilty is future, contingent, and liable to be escaped or evaded. With regard indeed to crimes that are incomplete, which consist merely in the intention, and are not yet carried into act, as conspiracies and the like, the innocent has a chance to frustrate or avoid the villany, as the conspirator has also a chance to escape his punishment; and this may be one reason why the lex talionis is more proper to be inflicted, if at all, for crimes that consist in intention, than for such as are carried into act. It seems, indeed, consonant to natural reason, and has therefore been adopted as a maxim by several theoretical writers,(r) that the punishment due to the crime of which one falsely accuses another should be inflicted on the perjured informer. Accordingly, when it was once attemped to introduce into England the law of retaliation, it was intended as a punishment for such only as preferred malicious accusations against others; it being enacted, by statute 37 Edw. III. ch. 18, that such as preferred any suggestions to the king’s great council should put in sureties of taliation; that is, to incur the same pain that the other should have had in case the suggestion were found untrue. But after one year’s experience, this punishment of taliation was rejected, and imprisonment adopted in its stead.(s)
But though from what has been said it appears that there cannot be any regular or determinate method of rating the *[*15quantity of punishments for crimes by any one uniform rule, but they must be referred to the will and discretion of the legislative power: yet there are some general principles, drawn from the nature and circumstances of the crime, that may be of some assistance in allotting it an adequate punishment.
As, first, with regard to the object of it; for the greater and more exalted the object of an injury is, the more care should be taken to prevent that injury, and, of course, under this aggravation the punishment should be more severe. Therefore treason in conspiring the king’s death is by the English law punished with greater rigour than even actually killing any private subject. And yet, generally, a design to transgress is not so flagrant an enormity as the actual completion of that design. For evil, the nearer we approach it, is the more disagreeable and shocking; so that it requires more obstinacy in wickedness to perpetrate an unlawful action, than barely to entertain the thought of it: and it is an encouragement to repentance and remorse, even till the last stage of any crime, that it never is too late to retract; and that if a man stops even here, it is better for him than if he proceeds: for which reason, an attempt to rob, to ravish, or to kill, is far less penal than the actual robbery, rape, or murder. But in the case of a treasonable conspiracy, the object whereof is the king’s majesty, the bare intention will deserve the highest degree of severity; not because the intention is equivalent to the act itself, but because the greatest rigour is no more than adequate to a treasonable purpose of the heart, and there is no greater left to inflict upon the actual execution itself.
Again: the violence of passion, or temptation, may sometimes alleviate a crime; as theft, in case of hunger, is far more worthy of compassion than when committed through avarice, or to supply one in luxurious excesses. To kill a man upon sudden and violent resentment is less penal than upon cool, deliberate malice. The age, education, and character of the offender: the repetition (or otherwise) *[*16of the offence; the time, the place, the company, wherein it was committed; all these, and a thousand other incidents, may aggravate or extenuate the crime.(t)
Further: as punishments are chiefly intended for the prevention of future crimes, it is but reasonable that among crimes of different natures those should be most severely punished which are the most destructive of the public safety and happiness;(u) and, among crimes of an equal malignity, those which a man has the most frequent and easy opportunities of committing, which cannot be so easily guarded against as others, and which therefore the offender has the strongest inducement to commit; according to what Cicero observes,(v) “ea sunt animadvertenda peccata maxime, quæ difficillime præcaventur.” Hence it is, that for a servant to rob his master is in more cases capital than for a stranger; if a servant kills his master, it is a species of treason;9 in another it is only murder; to steal a handkerchief, or other trifle of above the value of twelve pence, privately from one’s person, is made capital;10 but to carry off a load of corn from an open field, though of fifty times greater value, is punished with transportation only. And in the island of Man this rule was formerly carried so far that to take away a horse or an ox was there no felony, but a trespass, because of the difficulty in that little territory to conceal them or carry them off; but to steal a pig or a fowl, which is easily done, was a capital misdemeanour, and the offender was punished with death.(w)
Lastly: as a conclusion to the whole, we may observe that punishments of unreasonable severity, especially when indiscriminately inflicted, have less effect in preventing crimes and amending the manners of a people than such as are more merciful in general, yet properly intermixed with due **17]distinctions of severity. It is the sentiment of an ingenious writer, who seems to have well studied the springs of human action,(x) that crimes are more effectually prevented by the certainty than by the severity of punishment. For the excessive severity of law (says Montesquieu)(y) hinders their execution: when the punishment surpasses all measure the public will frequently, out of humanity, prefer impunity to it. Thus also the statute 1 Mar. st. 1, c. 1 recites in its preamble “that the state of every king consists more assuredly in the love of the subjects towards their prince than in the dread of laws made with rigorous pains; and that laws made for the preservation of the commonwealth without great penalties are more often obeyed and kept than laws made with extreme punishments.” Happy had it been for the nation if the subsequent practice of that deluded princess, in matters of religion, had been correspondent to these sentiments of herself and parliament in matters of state and government! We may further observe that sanguinary laws are a bad symptom of the distemper of any state, or at least of its weak constitution. The laws of the Roman kings, and the twelve tables of the decemviri, were full of cruel punishments: the Porcian law, which exempted all citizens from sentence of death, silently abrogated them all. In this period the republic flourished; under the emperors severe punishments were revived; and then the empire fell.11
It is moreover absurd and impolitic to apply the same punishment to crimes of different malignity. A multitude of sanguinary laws (besides the doubt that may be entertained concerning the right of making them) do likewise prove a manifest defect either in the wisdom of the legislative or the strength of the executive power. It is a kind of quackery in government, and argues a want of solid skill, to apply the same universal remedy, the ultimum supplicium, to every case of difficulty. It is, it must be owned, much easier to extirpate than to amend mankind; yet *[*18that magistrate must be esteemed both a weak and a cruel surgeon who cuts off every limb which, through ignorance or indolence, he will not attempt to cure. It has been therefore ingeniously proposed,(z) that in every state a scale of crimes should be formed, with a corresponding scale of punishments, descending from the greatest to the least; but, if that be too romantic an idea, yet at least a wise legislator will mark the principal divisions and not assign penalties of the first degree to offences of an interior rank. Where men see no distinction made in the nature and gradations of punishment, the generality will be led to conclude there is no distinction in the guilt. Thus in France the punishment of robbery, either with or without murder, is the same;(a) hence it is that though perhaps they are therefore subject to fewer robberies, yet they never rob but they also murder.12 In China murderers are cut to pieces, and robbers not; hence in that country they never murder on the highway, though they often rob. And in England, besides the additional terrors of a speedy execution and a subsequent exposure or dissection, robbers have a hope of transportation, which seldom is extended to murderers. This has the same effect here as in China; in preventing frequent assassination and slaughter.
Yet, though in this instance we may glory in the wisdom of the English law, we shall find it more difficult to justify the frequency of capital punishment to be found therein, inflicted (perhaps inattentively) by a multitude of successive independent statutes upon crimes very different in their natures. It is a melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than a hundred and sixty have been declared by act of parliament(b) to be felonies without benefit of clergy; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death. So dreadful a list, instead of diminishing, increases the number of offenders. *[*19The injured, through compassion, will often forbear to prosecute; juries, through compassion, will sometimes forget their oaths, and either acquit the guilty or mitigate the nature of the offence; and judges, through compassion, will respite one-half of the convicts, and recommend them to the royal mercy. Among so many chances of escaping, the needy and hardened offender overlooks the multitude that suffer: he boldly engages in some desperate attempt to relieve his wants or supply his vices, and if, unexpectedly, the hand of justice overtakes him, he deems himself peculiarly unfortunate in falling at last a sacrifice to those laws which long impunity has taught him to contemn.
[(a) ] Book iii. ch. 1.
[(b) ] See book i. p. 268.
[(c) ] Sir Michael Foster, pref. to rep.
[(d) ] Baron Montesquieu, marquis Beccaria, &c.
[(e) ] See book ii. page 335.
[(f) ] Stat. 9 Geo. I. c. 22. 31 Geo. II. c. 42.
[1 ] The two acts inflicting this severe punishment are repealed, as far as regards the benefit of clergy, by 4 Geo. IV. c. 54, 1 & 2; and the offender or offenders, together with their accessaries, are liable, at the discretion of the court, to be transported or imprisoned. And see still more recent enactments with respect to these offences, in 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 30, 15, 19, 20.—Chitty.
[(g) ] Stat. 5 Eliz. c. 20.
[2 ] The 5 Eliz. c. 20, which introduced this crime and its severe punishment, is repealed by the 23 Geo. III. c. 51. Also the 1 & 2 Ph. & M. c. 4, as far as it made it a capital felony for gypsies to remain one month in England, is repealed by 1 Geo. IV. c. 116.—Chitty.
[3 ] This hint was, however, taken but tardily, and the duty of reforming our criminal code was left unperformed until very recently. In spite of the striking expostulation of our commentator, and the repeated exposure by other great and good men of the injustice, the inconsistency and inefficiency of this branch of our law, one-fourth of the present century was suffered to expire without any important or uniform amelioration of its enactments. The subject has, however, recently received the attention which it so seriously demanded; and it is only due to a late eminent statesman to say that, although others had previously pointed out the defects of the criminal code, to him the merit is to be given of first bringing the power and advantages of office to remedy them. The work thus commenced has been carried on by others.—Stewart.
[4 ] In the English law misdemeanour is generally used in contradistinction to felony, and misdemeanours comprehend all indictable offences which do not amount to felony, as perjury, battery, libels, conspiracies, attempts and solicitations to commit felonies, &c.—Christian.
[5 ] The distinction between public crimes and private injuries seems entirely to be created by positive laws, and are referable only to civil institutions. Every violation of a moral law or natural obligation is an injury for which the offender ought to make retribution to the individuals who immediately suffer from it; and it is also a crime for which he ought to be punished to that extent which would deter both him and others from a repetition of the offence. In positive laws those acts are denominated injuries for which the legislature has provided only retribution or a compensation in damages; but when, from experience, it is discovered that this is not sufficient to restrain within moderate bounds certain classes of injuries, it then becomes necessary for the legislative power to raise them into crimes and to endeavour to repress them by the terror of punishment, or the sword of the public magistrate. The word “crime” has no technical meaning in the law of England. It seems, when it has a reference to positive law, to comprehend those acts which subject the offender to punishment. When the words high crimes and misdemeanours are used in prosecutions by impeachment, the words high crimes have no definite signification, but are used merely to give greater solemnity to the charge. When the word crime is used with a reference to moral law, it implies every deviation from moral rectitude. Hence we say it is a crime to refuse the payment of a just debt; it is a crime wilfully to do an injury to another’s person or property without making him a satisfaction. To destroy another’s property wilfully, without making the owner a compensation, is in all cases a worse crime in reason than theft; because the individual deprived of his property suffers precisely the same injury, and the public loses the benefit of that property, which contributes to the support of no one; and he who does the injury has not the temptation of him who steals to supply his wants. In the case of those actions which are only civil injuries, and to which no legal punishment is annexed, the law has supposed that retribution will be sufficient to deter the commission of them. But the wilful and malicious destruction of another’s property by fire in many cases is punished with death; so also is the malicious killing and maiming of another’s cattle: yet these detestable and diabolical acts were not crimes by the common law of England; but experience discovered the necessity of rendering them subject to public and severo punishment. Yet to set fire to a field of ripe standing corn is still only a private injury though this is an act which strikes at the very being of society, but the legislature have not yet found it necessary to repress it by the terror of penal laws.—Christian.
The 9 Geo. I. c. 22, relating to killing and maiming cattle, is repealed by 4 Geo. IV. c. 54, by which the punishment of that offence is altered to transportation or imprisonment, and the necessity of proving malice against the owner is removed.—Chitty.
[6 ] The civil right to sue for the injury the party has received in a case of felony is not in general merged or destroyed, but only suspended until he has performed his duty to society by an endeavour to bring the offender to justice: and after the party on whom suspicion was fixed has been convicted or acquitted, without collusion, the prosecutor may support an action for the same cause as that on which the criminal prosecution was founded. Styles, 346. 12 East, 409. Rep. T. Hardw. 350. 17 Ves. 329. No action can be brought, or bill in equity filed, in relation to a felony, until the offender has been duly tried for the offence, (id. ibid.,) or that every exertion has been made to bring him to justice.—Chitty.
[7 ] The court of Common Pleas will not compel a party who has proceeded both by indictment and action for the same assault to make his election upon which he will rely, (Jones vs. Clay, 1 Bos. & Pul. 191;) and, though it was formerly held that, in general, if the party moved for a criminal information he must abandon any action, that doctrine seems to have been broken in upon by a very recent case in the court of King’s Bench, (Caddy vs. Barlow, 1 Man. & Ryl. 275,) where it was held, in an action by A. for the malicious prosecution by C. of an indictment against A. and B., that a rule for a criminal information obtained by A., and made absolute, was no bar to the action. See also the note to that case, id. 278.—Chitty.
[(h) ] See Grotius, de j. b. & p. l. 2, c. 20. Puffendorf, L. of Nat. & N. b. 8, c. 3.
[(i) ] Gen. iv. 14.
[(k) ] See book i. p. 254.
[(l) ] Gen. ix. 6.
[(m) ] Book ii. c. 1.
[8 ] It is strange that the learned judge’s conclusion—viz., that theft itself is not an offence against natural rights—did not lead him to suspect the fallacy of the position that the right of property owes its origin not to the law of nature, but merely to civil society, which he has also advanced in a former book, (2 book, p. 11,) and which I have there presumed to controvert. If theft be not a violation of the law of nature and reason, it would follow that there is no moral turpitude in dishonesty. “Non igitur magis est contra naturam norbus aut egestas aut quid hujusmodi quam detractio aut appetitio alieni.”—Cic. Thou shall not steal is certainly one of the first precepts both of nature and religion.—Christian.
[(n) ] 1 Hal. P. C. 13.
[(o) ] Grand instructions for framing a new code of laws in the Russian empire, 210.
[(p) ]Pro Cluentio, 46.
[(q) ] Pott. Antiq. b. i. c. 26.
[(r) ] Beccar. c. 15.
[(s) ] Stat. 38 Edw. III. c. 9.
[(t) ] Thus, Demosthones (in his oration against Midias) finely works up the aggravations of the insults he had received:—“I was abused,” says he, “by my enemy, in cold blood, out of malice, not by heat of wine, in the morning, publicly, before strangers as well as citizens; and that in the temple, whither the duty of my office called me.”
[(u) ] Beccar. c. 6.
[(v) ]Pro Sexto Roscio, 40.
[9 ] This is no longer law. By 9 Geo. IV. c. 31, s. 2, repealing 25 Edw. III. st. 5, c. 2, respecting petit treason, it is enacted “that every offence which before the commencement of that act would have amounted to petit treason shall be deemed to be murder only, and no greater offence; and that all persons guilty in respect thereof, whether as principals or accessaries, shall be dealt with, indicted, tried, and punished as principals and accessaries in murder.” See 1 Hawk. P. C. 6th ed. 105. 5 Burn’s J. last ed. 551.—Chitty.
[10 ] This is altered by 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 29, s. 6, which enacts “that if any person shall steal any chattel, money, or valuable security from the person of another, or shall assault any other person with intent to rob him, or shall with menaces or by force demand any such property of any other person with intent to steal the same, he shall be guilty of felony, and liable to be transported for life, or for not less than seven years, or to be imprisoned for not exceeding four years; and, if a male, to be once, twice, or thrice publicly or privately whipped.”—Chitty.
[(w) ] 4 Inst. 285.
[(x) ] Beccar. c. 7.
[(y) ] Sp. L. b. 6, c. 13.
[11 ] The most admirable and excellent statute ever passed by the English legislature is the 1 Edw. VI. c. 12. In the preamble it states, in a beautiful and simple strain of eloquence, that “Nothing is more godly, more sure, more to be wished and desired betwixt a prince, the supreme head and ruler, and the subjects whose governor and head he is, than on the prince’s part great clemency and indulgency, and rather too much forgiveness and remission of his royal power and just punishment, than exact severity and justice to be showed; and, on the subjects’ behalf, that they should obey rather for love, and for the necessity and love of a king and prince, than for fear of his strait and severe laws. But as in tempest or winter one course and garment is convenient, in calm or warm weather a more liberal case or lighter garment both may and ought to be followed and used, so we have seen divers strait and sore laws made in one parliament (the time so requiring) in a more calm and quiet reign of another prince by the like authority and parliament taken away,” &c. It therefore repeals every statute which has created any treason since the 25 Edw. III. st. 5, c. 2. It repeals “all and every act of parliament concerning doctrine or matters of religion.” It repeals every felony created by the legislature during the preceding long and cruel reign of Henry VIII. It repeals the statute 31 Hen. VIII., “that proclamations made by the king’s highness, by the advice of his honourable council, should be made and kept as though they were made by authority of parliament.” It repeals also the extraordinary statute de bigamis, (4 Edw. I. st. 3, c. 5,) which enacted that if any man married a widow, or married a second wife after the death of the first, he should be deprived of the benefit of clergy if he was convicted of any clergyable felony whatever.—Christian.
[(z) ] Beccar. c. 6.
[(a) ] Sp. L. b. 6, c. 16.
[12 ] This is not now the law of France. By the present Criminal Code, founded on the Code Napoleon, robbery without murder has ceased to be a capital offence. And the result mentioned by the learned judge has ceased also: nothing is more common now than instances of robberies without murder in France.—Chitty.
[(b) ] See Ruffhead’s index to the statutes (tit. Felony) and the acts which have since been made.