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Imprisonment for Debt.
(JAN, 7, 9, 10, 1828.
that it should be brought up in the shape which the Senator from South Carolina had given to it. He would, however, at any time, vote for it as a distinct proposition. In relation to the objections of the Senator from South Carolina, he would consider whether the bill went too far in restricting the power of creditors over debtors. The gentleman says, that many debtors may have concealed property, bank stock, money, and choses in action, and thereby may be able fraudulently to defeat the claims of their creditors, even after judgment has been rendered against them. But what, sir, is to be done with those debtors who have no bank stock, nor money, nor choses in action Must they suffer, in hopeless confinement. because some few rich men may be villains lf debtors were proved to be dishonest, the bill provided for their punishment. He did not believe that the debtor part of the community was any better or worse, on the score of morality, than the creditor part. And he would fain know, upon what principle gentlemen assumed the fact, that debtors were dishonest. As many instances of oppression, on the part of creditors, can be enumerated, as of fraud on the part of debtors. The bill provided that the creditor, instead of confining the body of the debtor, upon a presumption that he has property concealed, should first give some kind of evidence of the fraud. Whereas, under the present laws, a creditor may first strip his debtor of all his property, even to his last blanket, and then, to complete his wretchedness, may turn against him, as a villain. But the gentleman also says, that the course of proceeding is too troublesome to the creditor. It would be more convenient for him to put the debtor in jail, at once, upon bare presumption of fraud. He submitted, whether this sentiment was in accordance with any principle of morality, or with that equality of rights, in defence of which the honorable gentleman himself had so often raised his voice. In this connexion, Mr. J. begged leave to call the attention of the Senate to the historical fact, that coercion was never, in a single instance, applied to any one of the English Lords, who might become a debtor ; and, that no inconvenience had ever resulted to any creditor from their exemption. The consequence of this privilege, in this respect, was, that their creditors took from them pledges of valuables, or relied upon their honor and property, Why cannot the same course be pursued, and with the same success, between creditors and debtors in this Republic, where all are nobles, and all commons ; where there is neither patrician nor plebeian Let me ask the Senator from South Carolina, continued Mr. J., whether I have not shown to him, that the bill, in relation to the supposition of fraud, gives no more than a fair and equal opportunity to the debtor to exculpate himself from the suspicion or charge 2 If I am deceived as to this, let the gentleman suggest a better mode in which the object may be obtained. 1 accord, said Mr. J., with the opinion of the gentleman, that the People should be undeceived as to the effect of this bill. He had been made aware by the great number of letters he had received from different parts of the country, that the People were under the impression that the bill would have a general operation, and would also affect existing contracts. But the advocates of the bill had not assisted in creating this impression. A small number of the debtors alone can ever have the benefit of the bill; and most deeply do I regret, that its P. and application cannot be made co-extensive with the relation of debtor and creditor throughout the Union. But, if it relieves but one debtor out of a hundred, it will be well worthy of the benevolence and phi. lanthropy of this body. It is, however, to the moral effect of this bill that I attach most importance. It will, in addition to the prevailing character of public opinion on the subject, have a decisive moral influence on the State Le
gislatures, who, it is to be hoped, will soon be induced to engraft its principles on their own judicial system. The gentleman says truly, that the bill will scarcely touch that mass of misery which is exhibited by the debt. ors in our towns and cities. I was in favor of giving them relief in a mode which the gentleman so eloquently re. commended last session. I stood by him in support of a bankrupt law, though that law was in opposition to all my former views and prejudices. The gentleman also underrates the importance of the bill, inasmuch as it does not apply to existing contracts. I have no partiality for that feature of the bill. In adopting it, I yielded to the views of my friends who would not vote for a retrospective law. But, must we relinquish legislation, be: cause we, of the present hour, cannot reap its fruits? Must we not legislate for posterity? Mr. J. pursued the subject still farther, and at consi. derable length. In conclusion, he said, that the object of the bill was to establish the principle, that crime alone should render a freeman liable to loss of liberty ; and he believed that the moral effect of the passage of this bill would, in a short time, cause the abolition of civil impri. sonment throughout the country. Mr. KANE rose to explain some misapprehension, on his part, of the character of the proposition of the Sena. tor from South Carolina. Mr. HAYNE spoke at some length, in reply to Mr. JOHNSON, Mr. VAN BUREN, and Mr. KANE, and concluded by withdrawing his motion for the recommit. ment, &c. for the reason that it would interfere with the bill now before the Senate, for extending the process of United States’ courts to the States admitted since the year 1789. On motion of Mr. BERRIEN, the bill was postponed to, and made the special order of the day for, Monday next, to which day The Senate adjourned.
Moxin Ay, JANUARY 7, 1828.
The Senate were principally occupied to-day in discus. sing the propriety of printing a document from the War Department, containing the names of those officers and soldiers of the Revolution who were entitled to lands. The subject was referred to the Committee on the Judi. ciary, to report upon the expediency of the printing, and tle manner in which it should be done.
Adjourned to Wednesday.
WEDNEspax, JANUARY 9, 1828.
This day was principally occupied in discussing the propriety of printing certain memorials against an increas. ed tariff of duties.
Thunso Ay, JANUAny 10. IMPRISONMENT FOR DEBT.
The bill to abolish imprisonment for debt came up in its order, and the question being put, “Shall this bill be engrossed for a third reading * Mr. EATON asked for the Yeas and Nays, which call was sustained.
Mr. BARTON said that he should only detain the Senate with a few remarks. This bill proposed to abolish imprisonment for debt.
Such a proposition must always
be popular, where it was known and where it was not
Jax. 10, 1828.]
Imprisonment for Debt.
tuents. When gentlemen intended to make a radical change in existing systems, it was, he thought, incumbent upon them to show some serious evil in the present state of things. . He was not sure as to the practicability of abolishing imprisonment for debt at all ; but were he in fivor of its abolition, he should vote against the bill now before the Senate, because its principal, if not its only effect, would be to deprive the plaintiff of his rights. The plaintiff is to state his case, and to swear that the defendant is about to leave the State, thus encouraging vexatious proceedings on the part of the plaintiff. He is moreover bound to state on oath the exact sum due to him. In hundreds of instances, this would be next to an impossibility, where accounts had been of long standing, and had become complicated. But if he cannot do it, he loses his power over the debtor. Then he has to go before a clerk, and make oath of the cause of the action : and this is not safely done without consulting counsel : because if he should state one cause, and it should turn out that another cause existed, he is not to have the benefit of process against the defendant. Before he can proceed to trial, he is to bring his case before a single Judge, who is to decide whether the trial shall proceed. If he pleases, he may discharge the defendant from bail. It is the act of one Judge, unchecked and unaided ; and an able jurist has said, that the law of one Judge is the law of a tyrant. All men look differently on the same matter; and as this Judge is to decide upon the statement under oath of the plaintiff, might it not be possible that he should decide wrong, and that the plaintiff should be the sufferer? Then when the Judge has decided that the defendant may be held to bail on mesne process, he has to make investigation, and an affidavit, whether the property of the debtor is concealed. If he fails in his second suit, the costs fall upon him. There were too many affidavits proposed in this new system. . The plaintiff must go through a series of them, before he arrives at any security as to the trial. After all this, the defendant comes in, and if the proof is not sufficient, has it in his power to tra. verse it; and if the jury decide against the plaintiff, the defendant is ever after discharged, and can never be held to bail. bill. . It provides all for the defendant, and nothing for the plaintiff. We know no such principle in our law. It provides for one party as well as another. It deals equal and exact justice to all. We have been told that the present system is cruel, and that our execution law is a disgrace and stain upon our statute book. It might have been so in the dark ages, because the imprisoned debtors had to support themselves, or depend upon being sup. ported by charity. But in the present age of charity and civilization, every one knows that no such thing exists. The several States have provided against it and we talk of mere imaginary evils, when we speak of the cruelty of imprisonment, under the present system. The Senator from Kentucky has told us that this law is to protect the debtor from the horrid cruelties of the creditor, and he has paraded before us a list of nineteen hundred prisoners in one State. But has not that gentleman been deceived in the representations that have been made to him May he not have met with persons willing to exaggerate the cruelties to which he alludes. And if it should be so, it would not be the only time that gentlemen whose meaning was as good as that of the gentleman from Kentucky, had been imposed upon. But supposing there are nineteen hundred, or twice that number of prisoners for debt, in one of the States, are we to suppose that all these, or any very great proportion of them, are hard cases Are
This bill, said Mr. S., is, in my view, a one-sided
this bill is to restrain the natural cruelty of mankind ; and that all men are naturally cruel. I thought not. I believe that pity is the last passion that deserts the human breast. But are creditors always those who act from impure or unchristian feelings Have we not instances every day where men have gone to prison, leaving their families to enjoy splendid fortunes, which they have wrongfully obtained from others These are every day affairs. I will allude to some facts which were stated here the other day, facts which were stated openly, and which may serve to illustrate this matter. It was said, in relation to a list of the names of the officers and soldiers of the Revolution, that members of Congress had obtained access to that list, and by making extracts from it, had led to speculations by which the rightful claimants were defrauded of their lands. Now, what would the Senator from Kentucky say, if those purchasers were prosecuted for restitution of the lands thus obtained Would he shudder, then, at the open prison door This is often the case ; as often, perhaps, as the reverse. I do not intend to offer any amendment. I once, on a former occasion, had the honor to present my views of this subject, which I do not think it advisable now to repeat. Indeed I do not know that I should have said a word upon this subject, had not the Senator from Kentucky alluded to two of our illus. trious public men. One of these was the great statesman, Jefferson, who has gone from among us—the other, General Sumpter, a native of the State I represent. The Senator from Kentucky has said that even Jefferson was liable to be imprisoned for debt in his old age. To make the picture still more revolting, he said that Jefferson was liable to be laid hold of by a constable. But the State which I have the honor to represent, has shown by its conduct since his death, that he could not have been arrested on a writ of capias ad satisfaciendum. But, said Mr. S., I would not have such a man as Jefferson exempt from the operation of the law. He ought to be, and, as a good citizen, he would have desired to be, a sharer in the liabilities as well as the protection of the law. It is but seldom that a good or an honorable man is oppressed by it, excepting in some case where the complex operations of banking institutions produced some evil of such a nature. The gentleman has mentioned General Sumpter, as one who had been subjected to the operation of the present system. But it is not to be supposed that a man who has served his country so well, and so nobly, could be forgotten by that country, whether the state. ment made by the gentleman, as to the pecuniary difficulties of that great man, was true or not. The gentleman says he is poor. His circumstances may have changed, and his finances have been straightened by some reverse of fortune ; bolt he has been too much an honor to South Carolina to be forgotten or neglected by her. And, said Mr. S., I can assure that gentleman, that if he had been unfortunate, he never could be subjected to the operation of a ca. sa. No possible circumstances could produce such a disaster to a man so much venerated. His prison doors would fly open, and his manacles would fall from his limbs—not through the interference of a deity, but by the operation of public gratitude. One word more. I have always observed, in speeches upon subjects of this kind, that the blame of all the cruelty, as it is called, of the law, is thrown upon the Judges. I, for one, am not inclined to join in this cry. In matters of meum and tutum, the Judges have uniformly been right. I believe that the laws of England have been digested by as learned and as humane Judges, as those of any country. The law. seems to me, in its great and general features, to be as
we to suppose that the majority of these imprisonments wise and as humane as the fallibility of human nature
are made to satisfy vindictive dispositions Not so. The
genius of the country was against it.
will allow. Yet, here we are called upon to break
The People would up the whole system of execution laws, and adopt a new
not allow such an outrage to be perpetrated, against the and undigested system; a systern which he believed spirit and feeling of the community. He says, also, that would injure the defendant for whose benefit its framers
Imprisonment for Debt.
[JAN. 10, 1828.
intended it. Under such convictions, he must vote against the bill. Mr. BERRIEN did not rise, he said, to discuss the subject at this time ; but having invited the aid of this honorable body, in maturing the bill, and in remedying its faults, in the spirit in which he had made that invitation, he would now avail himself of the suggestions of the Senator from South Carolina. He would, therefore, offer as an amendment to the bill, a proviso that it should not, as regards mesne or final process, be construed to affect the rights of the United States, in suits brought for the collection of revenue debts. In order to meet another objection, he would propose that, when the issue was made up, according to the provisions of the 6th section, execution should issue against the body of the defendant, as if this act had not passed. Mr. COBB observed, that it struck him that the amendment proposed by his colleague did not go far enough. There were other suits brought against debtors by the United States, besides those for the collection of revenue debts. He alluded particularly to suits brought against disbursing officers for defalcation, which were the most important suits brought by the Government, and embraccd a very large amount. He therefore thought an additional clause should be added to the amendment now offered. Mr. BERRIEN said that there was no necessity for such a provision, as it was made in another part of the bill. Mr. HARRISON said, that he objected to the amend. ment just proposed by the gentieman from Georgia. It would have \he obvious effect to place the United States on better footing than other individuals would enjoy. Considering this principle at variance with the tone and spirit of the bill, he would never give it his assent. He was in favor of the bill in its general principles; and even with this provision he might vote for it : but, he did not wish to have it understood that in doing so, he was willing to make a reservation in favor of the General Governjment. Mr. BERRIEN said that it was the practice to make a distinction in favor of the Government between debts due
to it, and debts due to citizens. The whole history of the Government shewed that every endeavor was made to facilitate the collection of the revenue, until it had become the settled policy of the Government. There was a statute now in force, by which an officer of the Governjment was empowered to issue a distress warrant on a perfectly ex parte process. It would have been looked upon as highly improper to attempt to innovate upon
what has become the established policy of the country; and certainly it would have been inexpedient, in offering a bill containing new principles, to interfere with any fa. cility given to the collection of the revenue, which had become engrafted permanently on our financial system. Mr. BRANCH said that he had a few remarks to make on the amendment proposed by the gentleman from Georgia. He certainly could not agree with him Was
for debt is illegal and cruel. He agreed with the gentleman from Ohio, and must oppose this amendment. Mr. WAN BUREN remarked, that, when an officer of the Government appropriated the money of Government to his own uses, the principle at present acknowledged, authorized an union of equity with law, to effect a distribution of his property. This was done to operate as a security. But now it was proposed to carry the principle farther, and to allow the United States, for debts contracted by individuals who became unable to pay it, to imprison him summarily. It is true, as the gentleman from Georgia says, that it is the policy of the Government to assume to itself preferences in the collection of its revenue. But it was immoral, impolitic, and unnatural, to allow imprisonment in order to coerce the payment of debts by persons unable to meet them. If the system now to be established, was to make a distinction between misfortune and crime, as he had hoped it would, then it was inconsistent with it to retain a clause which should still disgrace the statute book with a principle at once immoral, impolitic, and unnatural. He should, therefore, vote against the amendment. Mr. BERRIEN replied, that, if it were true that the principle heretofore established, and acted upon, by the Government, was merely a species of security, then the argument of the gentleman from New York would be a good one. But it was not so. On the statute book would be found cases which could not apply to individuals, and could not be governed by principles similar to those applying to individual parties. He would allude to the law for the better regulation of the Treasury Department, in which it is provided, that a person failing to pay money's due to the Treasury, may be incarcerated until discharged by due course of law. Ile did not defend this principle ; but, in advocating this object, I lay down the proposition that this bill, which is to change the jurisdiction of the United States, may not be obstructed by any attempt at innovation in any of those long established practices which have grown into the settled policy of the country. He would not pretend to say, that under the present law there had not been instances of oppression that would have disgraced any country. He was anxious that, in attempting to afford to the People the benefits of this system, in all ordinary cases, it might not be cmbarrassed by any interference with the established regulations of the finances. If gentlemen were disposed to alter the policy of the Government, let them introduce a bill for that purpose, and, as far as he could go safely, he would go with them. But he would not advocate any such attempt being engrafted upon this bill, which was framed for other purposes. He wished this hill to stand on its own footing, and that it night not be embarrassed by the introduction of propositions and plans not imme. diately connected with it. Mr. VAN BUR EN, in reply, remarked that the gentleman from Georgia’s view of the present system was perfectly consistent with his own. He acknowledged that some preference was necessary in the collection of
it intended to do mole in passing this bill than make an the revenue, where the transactions were so vast and mulexperiment Was it not the moral effect which was de-ltifarious. The United States was allow cd the same privi. signed to be produced And if so, should the Senate lege over the body that individuals enjoyed, only that the sanction a principle at once partial and unjust 2 If the process was more summary. But now, a new era was to example were to produce any benefit, the practice of the be commenced. This bili was to establish a new principlan proposed in the bill ought to begin with the Gene: plc, and to draw a line of distinction between the unforjal Government. . It was not for Congress to say to the tunate and the criminal. This was the whole scope of
States, ‘‘Pluck the mote from your eye,” and still che. the bill now under consideration.
And should they stop short of this object Should they, in mere cases of debt, where the parties were not able to pay, allow to the United States the liberty of confining the debtor within the four walls of a prison He hoped not : for, if such was the case, it would be a libel on the bill and its advocates, and convict them of the grossest inconsistency. Mr. HAYNE rose merely to state the ground upon Jax. 10, 1828.]
Imprisonment for Debt.
which he should give his vote. At first he had thought with the gentleman from Ohio ; but, upon further reflection, he rather approved the amendment. He objected to the principle and operation of the bill. He first objected to it as applied to the citizen. If he was defeated there, he was against it as it would apply to the United States. and mainly, because he believed it would diminish the revenue. An unwise rule was by its application made nugatory. And he believed not an individual would go into the Federal Courts, if this bill passed ; but would, in preference, go into the State Courts : for, when he went into the United States’ Courts, after the defendant had been defeated, the plaintiff could not get possession of half of the property, because it was not attachable. But the United States must go into the Federal Cours, and suffer the same inconveniences, which he believed would result in a great loss of revenue. He could not, therefore, agree with the Senator from Ohio. The question on the amendments offered by Mr. BERRIEN, being then taken, was decided in the affirmative, Ayes 20, Nays 18. The question of engrossing then recurred, when Mr. ROWAN said he had not attended to the provisions of the bill in detail. He had the most unqualified confitlence in the members of the committee, who had examined and approved them. He was in favor of the object of the bill—the abolition of imprisonment for debt. He was opposed to imprisonment for any civil cause. The acts of individuals, so far as they are cognizable by the laws, are divided into civil and criminal ; criminal acts are those, which are injurious or offensive to the State ; to them he would confine inprisonment. It should never be inflicted by any, but the government, arol by it, for misdemeanor, or crime only. He did not believe that indebtedness was either a crime or misdemeanor ; and upon the supposition that it was either, he would never consent that this punishment should be inflicted, or that the cre. ditor should inflict it. Sir, said he, the relation of debtor ard creditor is an accidental one, which takes place between equals ; for in our government all are equal : equally secure in the enjoyment of their lives, their liberty, and their property. This equality lies at the root of republicanism. It is is natural, and the republic was not formed to destroy, or impair, but to preserve and protect it. Hence the explicit guarantees, by the Constitution, of equal rights. Can it then be supposed, that liberty which ranks in the Constitution as it does in the intelligence of mankind, next to life, and without which life itself is scarcely worth enjoying, can, by any law, which does not violate the spirit of the constitution, be subjected to the caprice, the whim, or the malignity of those who may happen, in the ever-varying condition of human affairs, to become creditors’ The object of all civil regulations is to secure privote happiness, from private encroachinent. To sceure individuals, from the power of one another. It was to promote the happiness of all, by protecting the weak against the strong, that government was instituted. But, by permitting the creditor to imprison his debtor, you counteract and defeat the great object of the social institutions: you surrender the weak, to the strong; for wealth is power, and poverty is weakness; you deprive every man, whom accident makes a debtor, of his liberty. Instead of appealing to the constitution, and relying upon it for the enjoyment of his liberty, he is referred to the caprice of his creditor. Its is told, that, instead of relying upon the strong arm of his government, for the protection of his liberty, he must invoke the clemency of that man, whom avarice, parsimony, or accident, has clothed with wealth, and, under the denomination of his creditor, arm. ed with the power of tyranny. That if his spirits have been broken by his adversities ; if, with the loss of his fortune, he has lost his self-respect, and is prepared hun.bly
to implore the indulgence of the more fortunate, but perhaps greatly less meritorious person, to whom he has, by the force of circumstances, become debtor, he may escape imprisonment; or that he may possibly escape, (for a while at least) by renewing his bond for the debt, with ten or twelve per cent. interest, as a moderate equivalent for his gracious forbearance. If in the wreck of his fortune, the debtor has been left the means of bribing his creditor, or if some friend or neighbor, moved by the sympathies of a kind heart will become his sponsor for the debt, swelled by the inordinate premium for forbearance, he is graciously permitted to enjoy his liberty yet a little longer. So that the debtor is not barely in as bad a situation, in relation to his creditor, as he would have been without the aid or protection of the civil institutions; but in a much worse. In a state of nature, he could have resisted any and every encroachment upon his liberty, to the extent of his power, even to the infliction of death upon the assailant. In this he would have been justified by the law of nature; and even now, under our civil code, if any person shall attempt to imprison another, who is not his debtor, he may be resisted even to death. It is the creditor alone, who, by our law, is authorized to imprison. It is he alone, who may reverse the laws of nature with impunity; who may violate them, not only with impunity, but with the sanction and aid of the civil laws, and their machinery. The civil laws, so far from protecting the unfortunate debtor from the blow aimed by the disappointed and exasperated creditor, at his liberty, his peace, and his happiness, lend their vigour to his vengeance, and confer on deeds of private malignity the sanction of public approbation. They point the weapon of private vengeance with the venom of public scorn. Misfortune is treated as crime, even worse (as he should hereafter attempt to shew.) Calamity is aggravated by the loss of liberty. The theory of our government derives all its captivation, (and it has much, very much) from its regard to the equal rights of its citizens, and from its seeming aptitude to maintain and preserve those rights. It proclaims their happiness to have been the great object of its institution; and as the best means of promoting that object, it guarantees to all, and to each, the same enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. Sir, will any man say that the pledge given in the constitution for the security of the liberty of the citizen, is redeemed in the imprisonment of the debtor portion of the community, by their creditors. Will it, can it be said, that the practice, under the constitution, conforms to its theory Sir, we abound in political liberty, while we are destitute of civil freedom. Our political laws, our constitutions, proclaim us the freest people in the world. While our civil laws, so far from conforming, as they ought, to the nature and principle of our government, subject us to slavery. Sir, while it is our pride to have made our political law—to have framed our own constitutions, it is our misfortune, and our reproach, to have adopted a foreign code of civil law. Our political law is republican ; our civil law is monarchical. We won our independence from England by our valor; asserted our freedom in our constitutions, and then voluntarily became her vassal, by adopting her laws. Sir, the most important half of the revolution remains to be achieved. We must conquer her in her code If we do not, she will conquer us, through that medium. It is true, that, since our inde. pendence, we are not subject as a nation to her laws. But it is as true that distributively as a people, we are stili subject to them; and imprisonment for debt is one, and not the least odious and oppressive of those laws. A law, however it might suit the constitution of a government consisting of kings, lords, and commons, but illy suits, he repeated, the genius and spirit of our republican institutions: a law wirich he considered neither more nor less than a foul blot upon
the escutcheon of our government; a blot which our interest, no less than our pride, required us to wipe off; one which he hoped would be forever obliterated, by the passage of the bill now under discussion. Sir, let us look at the practical operation of this thing, on the condition of society. Do not one-half of our citizens, the debtor half, hold their liberty by a courtesy tenure, of the other half It is worse than a courtesy tenure. In that, there are certain facts, which give certainly to the tenure. But in this, there can be no certain criterion. Who may be debtor, and who creditor, depends upon the ever varying condition of human affairs and human agency. A man may be creditor to day, and debtor to-norrow. We are told, from very high authority, “that riches make to themselves wings and flee away.” No man knoweth what a day may produce ; no man's condition is exclusively within his own control. If the liberty of the citizen were made to depend upon the constancy of mutation or change in the condition of man, then indeed it would be perpetual. But, as the law now is, no man can make a contract, or incur a liability, without endangering his liberty. He is constrained to transact his business, on the vestibule of the prison of his country. Sir, can freedom be predicated of any society, in which any one of its members may oppress any other, who shall have been unfortunate 2 in which the want of success in the honest pursuits of life, shall draw after it the loss of liberty In which the poor and the unfortunate depend for their freedom, not upon their government, but upon the discretion, or the caprice, of the prosperous and the wealthy Sir, liberty is the wealth of the poor man ; bereaved of the good things of this life, he has nothing else left, with which to console himself; he has no will to make he has no valuables to bequeath to his children; the fruits of the toil of his life have been exausted in rais. ing and educating them; he has nothing but the invaluable, the inestimable boon of liberty to bequeath to them, and he should be enabled to point exultingly to the constitution, and code of his country, and say to his children, in an emphasis of triumph, The freedom which has been the solace and pride of my life, you will find there. Guard it, maintain it, vindicate it at every hazard ; when you shall lose it, you will have nothing left worth preserving. Sir, I repeat, that there is, and always will be, in this and
every society, a large portion of its members from whom, What,
when you take their freedom, you take their all. let me ask, has the honest, but unfortunate man, who has been deprived, by some unfortunate event, or sudden casualty, of the means of meeting his engagements, left, but his liberty to reconcile him to life What motive has he to fight the battles of his country How can he be benefitted by her victories 2 Vanquished or victorious, his condition is the sane. The country in which, and the government under which he lives, belongs to the wealthy, not to the poor ; he can exclaim, with as much emphasis as Cato did, “this world was made for Caesar.” Mr. President, what is gained to creditors by the incarceration of their debtors : The debtor is not employed in reducing, by his labor, the amount of his debt. He cannot be sold, hired, or disposed of for money, in any way whatever ; and what is gained to the public by his imprisonment The volume of industrious exertion, upon which the general welfare depends, from which the public prosperity results, is diminished in proportion to the number of persons imprisoned ; and should the United States be engaged in war, its strength would be diminished in the same proportion ; so that while the unfortunate debtor would be deprived of his liberty, and of the society of his family and friends, and while his family might be deprived, not only of the comfort and protection, which his presence gave them, but of the sustenance which his labor afforded, neither his creditor nor the public would be at all benefitted. The majesty of the government
would have been degraded, by the employment of its process, in the gratification of the malignity of the creditorHe might perhaps, by torturing the sympathies of the friends or relatives of the debtor, succeed in wringing from them the amount of his debt. But is it just to allow him to extort from their agonized sensibilities the debt of their unfortunate friend, a debt for which they never received any consideration, which they never contracted to pay, and to the payment of which, they were under no legal or moral obligation Sir, the charities of life, and the sympathies which sweeten its most endearing relations, should not be exposed to the experiments of extortion, which the unsated or exasperated avarice of creditors might choose to make upon them. Government, instead of lending its energies for purposes so unholy, should elicit, cherish, and protect, those kindly workings of the human heart, which, as they are above all moneyed estimation, should be exempt from moneyed exactions. Sir, we have heard of instances, in which the rights of interment were denied by the creditor to his unfortunate debtor, who had died in custody, until the debt had been wrung from the fresh, but credulous sorrow, of his surviving relatives. But, Sir, the effect of imprisonment upon debtors themselves is greatly to be deprecated. It has an humbling effect. It has a demoralizing effect. In every Republic, where the will of the people is this governing power, as it must be in all such governments, and as it ought to be in every government, care should be taken not to pollute its sources. Every individual in the Republic should feel a constant, and proud consciousness, that his will formed a constituent and justly proportioned part of the governing volume. But when he is torn from the bosom of his family, and of society, and thrown into prison, denied the power of either managing his own or participating in the concerns of the public, he is placed in an unnaturnal state, his faculties rust for the want of employment. He may, he must be inactive, but he cannot be idle. The means of useful or virtuous actions are denied him. The motives cease with the means. He either becomes spiritless and languid, or wicked and vindictiveIf the former, when enlarged, he is useless. His mind has lost its elasticity, its spring, its pride. He is, at best, during the balance of his life, an inefficient harmless beingIf the latter, he brings, when enlarged, the vices of the prison into the bosom of society, and propagates them. there. He is mischievously busy, and vindictively activeduring the balance of his life. The prison has lost its terrors with him ; he fears it less now in its legitimate use, as a punishment for crime, than he did at first, as a confinement for debt and he is more likely thereafter to be a criminal, than a debtor. Sir, our citizens should not be made too familiar with our prisons; the government needs for the restraint and punishment of crime all the ideal as well as real horrors of the prison. Let it not, Mr. President, be overlooked, that, for the punishment of all the crimes which can be perpetrated. civil society has but the life, the liberty, and the property of the offender, upon which it can display its punishing energies. It inflicts death for the perpetration of trea– son, murder, and the other more atrocious crimes. It inflicts confinement, with or without hard labor, for shorter or longer periods, as the punishment for all the subordinate crimes; and, God knows, they are numerous and grievous enough. The government is under the necessity of economizing its criminal fund. It consists exclusively irr its power over the life and liberty of the citizen. It can act upon the property of its citizens efficiently, in restraining and punishing misdemeanors and minor offencesFines and amercements should be employed exclusively as punishments, or rather as the animadversions of go vernment, upon all the acts of its citizens, which, thougla reprehensible and injurious, do not amount to crime, anci are denominated misdemeanors ; which are the result of