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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Of penal laws might be founded


I

shall trespass upon the patience of the reader in this place, only till I have made an application of these principles, or till I have shewn him how far these might be extended, and extended with advantage to morals, beyond the limits of the Quaker-society, by being received as the basis, upon which a system, of penal laws might be founded, among larger societies, or states.

It is much to be lamented, that nations, professing Christianity, should have lost sight, in their various acts of legislation, of Christian principles: or that they should not have interwoven some such beautiful principles as those, which we have seen adopted by the Quakers, into the system of their penal laws. But if this negligence or omission would appear worthy of regret, if reported of any Christian nation, it would appear most so, if reported of our own, where one would have supposed, that the advantages of civil and religious liberty, and those of a reformed religion, would have had their influence is the correction of our judgments, and in the benevolent dispositions of our will. And yet nothing is more true, than that these good influences have either never been produced, or, if produced, that they have never been attended to, upon this subject. There seems to be no provision for religions instruction in our numerous prisons. We seem to make no patient trials of those, who are confined in them, for their reformation. But, on the other hand, we seem to hurry them

off the stage of life, by means of a code, which annexes death to two hundred different offences, as if we had allowed our laws to be written by the bloody pen of the pagan Draco. And it seems remarkable, that this system should be persevered in, when we consider that death, as far as the experiment has been made in our own country, has little or no effect as a punishment for crimes. Forgery, and the circulation of forged paper, and the counterfeiting of the money of the realm, are capital offences, and are never pardoned. And yet no offences are more frequently committed than these. And it seems still more remarkable, when we consider, in addition to this, that in consequence of the experiments, made in other countries, it seems to be approaching fast to an axiom, that crimes are less frequent, in proportion as mercy takes place of severity, or as there are judicious substitutes for the punishment of death.

I shall not inquire, in this place, how far the right of taking away life on many occasions, which is sanctioned by the law of the land, can be supported on the ground of justice, or how for a greater injury is done by it, than the injury the criminal has himself done. As Christians, it seems that we should be influenced by Christian principles. Now nothing can be more true, than that Christianity commands us to be tender hearted one to another, to have a tender forbearance one with another, and to regard one another as brethren. We are taught also that men, independently of their accountableness to their own governments, are accountable for their actions in a future state, and that punishments are unquestionably to follow. But where are our forbearance and our love, where is our regard for the temporal and eternal interests of man, where is our respect for the principles of the gospel, if we make the reformation of a criminal a less object than his punishment, or if we consign him to death, in the midst of his sins, without having tried all the means in our power for his recovery?

Had the Quakers been the legislators of the world, they had long ago interwoven the principles of their discipline into their penal codes, and death had been long ago abolished as a punishment for crimes. As far as they have had any power with legislatures, they have procured an attention to these principles. George Fox remonstrated with the judges in his time on the subject of capital punishments. But the Quakers having been few in number, compared with the rest of their countrymen, and having had no seats in the legislature, and no predominant interest with the members of it, they have been unable to effect any change in England on this subject. In Pennsylvania, however, where they were the original colonists, they have had influence with their own government, and they have contributed to set up a model of jurisprudence, worthy of the imitation of the world.


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