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well might the execution of a fugitive negro in the plantations be considered as a lesson to teach masters humanity to their slaves. Such executions may, indeed, satiate our revenge; they may harden our hearts, and puff us up with pride and arrogance. Alas! this is not instruction.
If anything can be drawn from such examples by a parity of the case, it is to show how deep their crime and how heavy their punishment will be, who shall at any time dare to resist a distant power actually disposing of their property without their voice or consent to the disposition, and overturning their franchises without charge or hearing. God forbid that England should ever read this lesson written in the blood of any of her offspring!
War is at present carried on between the king's natural and foreign troops, on one side, and the English in America, on the other, upon the usual footing of other wars; and accordingly an exchange of prisoners has been regularly made from the beginning. If, notwithstanding this hitherto equal procedure, upon some prospect of ending the war with success (which, however, may be delusive) administration prepares to act against those as traitors who remain in their hands at the end of the troubles, in my opinion we shall exhibit to the world as indecent a piece of injustice as ever civil fury has produced. If the prisoners who have been exchanged have not by that exchange been virtually pardoned, the cartel (whether avowed or understood) is a cruel fraud ; for you have received the life of a man, and you ought to return a life for it, or there is no parity or fairness in the transaction.
If, on the other hand, we admit that they who are
actually exchanged are pardoned, but contend that you may justly reserve for vengeance those who remain unexchanged, then this unpleasant and unhandsome consequence will follow : that you judge of the delinquency of men merely by the time of their guilt, and not by the heinousness of it; and you make fortune and accidents, and not the moral qualities of human action, the rule of your justice.
These strange incongruities must ever perplex those who confound the unhappiness of civil dissension with the crime of treason. Whenever a rebellion really and truly exists, which is as easily known in fact as it is difficult to define in words, government has not entered into such military conventions, but has ever declined all intermediate treaty which should put rebels in possession of the law of nations with regard to war. Commanders would receive no benefits at their hands, because they could make no return for them. Who has ever heard of capitulation, and parole of honor, and exchange of prisoners in the late rebellions in this kingdom? The answer to all demands of that sort was, “We can engage for nothing; you are at the king's pleasure.” We ought to remember, that, if our present enemies be in reality and truth rebels, the king's generals have no right to release them upon any conditions whatsoever; and they are themselves answerable to the law, and as much in want of a pardon, for doing so, as the rebels whom they release.
Lawyers, I know, cannot make the distinction for which I contend; because they have their strict rule to go by. But legislators ought to do what lawyers cannot; for they have no other rules to bind them but the great principles of reason and equity and the
general sense of mankind
These they are bound to obey and follow, and rather to enlarge and enlighten law by the liberality of legislative reason than to fetter and bind their higher capacity by the narrow constructions of subordinate, artificial justice. If we had ad verted to this, we never could consider the convulsions of a great empire, not disturbed by a little disseminated faction, but divided by whole communities and provinces, and entire legal representatives of a people, as fit matter of discussion under a commission of Oyer and Terminer. It is as opposite to reason and prudence as it is to humanity and justice.
This act, proceeding on these principles, that is, preparing to end the present troubles by a trial of one sort of hostility under the name of piracy, and of another by the name of treason, and executing the act of Henry the Eighth according to a new and unconstitutional interpretation, I have thought evil and dangerous, even though the instruments of cffccting such purposes had been merely of a neutral quality.
But it really appears to me that the means which this act employs are at least as exceptionable as the end. Permit me to open myself a little upon this subject; because it is of importance to me, when I am obliged to submit to the power without acquiescing in the reason of an act of legislature, that I should justify my dissent by such arguments as may be supposed to have weight with a sober man.
The main operative regulation of the act is to suspend the Common Law and the statute Habeas Corpus (the sole securities either for liberty or justice) with regard to all those who have been out of the realm, or on the high seas, within a given time. The rest of the people, as I understand, are to continue as they stood before.
I confess, Gentlemen, that this appears to me as bad in the principle, and far worse in its consequence, than an universal suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act; and the limiting qualification, instead of taking out the sting, does in my humble opinion sharpen and envenom it to a greater degree. Liberty, if I understand it at all, is a general principle, and the clear right of all the subjects within the realm, or of none. Partial freedom seems to me a most invidious mode of slavery. But, unfortunately, it is the kind of slavery the most easily admitted in times of civil discord : for parties are but too apt to forget their own future safety in their desire of sacrificing their enemies. People without much difficulty admit the entrance of that injustice of which they are not to be the immediate victims. In times of high proceeding it is never the faction of the predominant power that is in danger: for no tyranny chastises its own instruments. It is the obnoxious and the suspected who want the protection of law; and there is nothing to bridle the partial violence of state factions but this, “that, whenever an act is made for a cessation of law and justice, the whole people should be universally subjected to the same suspension of their franchises.” The alarm of such a proceeding would then be universal. It would operate as a sort of call of the nation. It would become every man's immediate and instant concern to be made very sensible of the absolute necessity of this total eclipse of liberty. They would more carefully advert to every renewal, and more powerfully resist it. These great determined measures are not commonly so dangerous to freedom. They are marked with too strong lines to slide into use. No plea, nor pretence, of inconvenience or evil example (which must
in their nature be daily and ordinary incidents) can be admitted as a reason for such mighty operations. But the true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedients, and by parts. The Habeas Corpus Act supposes, contrary to the genius of most other laws, that the lawful magistrate may see particular men with a malignant eye, and it provides for that identical case. But when men, in particular descriptions, marked out by the magistrate himself, are delivered over by Parliament to this possible malignity, it is not the Habeas Corpus that is occasionally suspended, but its spirit that is mistaken, and its principle at is subverted. Indeed, nothing is security to any individual but the common interest of all.
This act, therefore, has this distinguished evil in it, that it is the first partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus that has been made. The precedent, which is always of very great importance, is now established. For the first time a distinction is made among the people within this realm. Before this act, every man putting his foot on English ground, every stranger owing only a local and temporary allegiance, even negro slaves who had been sold in the colonies and under an act of Parliament, became as free as every other man who breathed the same air with them. Now a line is drawn, which may be advanced further and further at pleasure, on the same argument of mere expedience on which it was first described. There is no equality among us; we are not fellow-citizens, if the mariner who lands on the quay does not rest on as firm legal ground as the merchant who sits in his counting-house. Other laws may injure the community; this dissolves it. As things now stand, every man in the West Indies,