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A Portraiture of Quakerism, Volume 1 by Clarkson

Procured from the legislature of Pennsylvania


Penn, on his arrival in America, formed a code of laws chiefly on Quaker principles, in which, however, death was inscribed as a punishment, but it was confined to murder. Queen Anne set this code aside, and substituted the statute and common law of the mother country. It was, however, resumed in time, and acted upon for some years, when it was set aside by the mother country again. From this time it continued dormant till the separation of America from England. But no sooner had this event taken place, which rendered the American states their own legislators, than the Pennsylvanian Quakers began to aim at obtaining an alteration of the penal laws. In this they were joined by worthy individuals of other denominations; and these, acting in union, procured from the legislature of Pennsylvania, in the year 1786, a reform of the criminal code. This reform, however, was not carried, in the opinion of the Quakers, to a sufficient length. Accordingly, they took the lead again, and exerted themselves afresh upon this subject. Many of them formed themselves into a society "for alleviating the miseries of public prisons." Other persons co-operated with them in this undertaking also. At length, after great perseverance, they prevailed upon the same legislature, in the year 1790, to try an ameliorated system. This trial answered so well, that the same legislature again, in the year 1794, established an act, in which several Quaker principles were incorporated, and in which only the crime
of premeditated murder was punishable with death.

As there is now but one capital offence in Pennsylvania, punishments for other offences are made up of fine, imprisonment, and labour; and these are awarded separately or conjointly, according to the magnitude of the crime.

When criminals have been convicted, and sent to the great gaol of Philadelphia to undergo their punishment, it is expected of them that they should maintain themselves out of their daily labour; that they should pay for their board and washing, and also for the use of their different implements of labour; and that they should defray the expences of their commitment, and of their prosecutions and their trials. An account therefore is regularly kept against them, and if at the expiration of the term of their punishment, there should be a surplus of money in their favour, arising out of the produce of their work, it is given to them on their discharge.

An agreement is usually made about the price of prison-labour between the inspector of the gaol and the employers of the criminals.

As reformation is now the great object in Pennsylvania, where offences have been committed, it is of the first importance that the gaoler and the different inspectors should be persons of moral character. Good example, religious advice, and humane treatment on the part of these, will have a tendency to produce attention, respect, and love on the part of the prisoners, and to influence their moral conduct. Hence it is a rule never to be departed from, that none are to be chosen as successors to these different officers, but such, as shall be found on inquiry to have been exemplary in their lives.

As reformation, again, is now the great object, no corporal punishment is allowed in the prison. No keeper can strike a criminal. Nor can any criminal be put into irons. All such punishments are considered as doing harm. They tend to extirpate a sense of shame. They tend to degrade a man and to make him consider himself as degraded in his own eyes; whereas it is the design of this change in the penal system, that he should be constantly looking up to the restoration of his dignity as a man, and to the recovery of his moral character.

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