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they were panic-stricken by the Rights of Man, with its appeal to natural rights and its onslaught on the English constitution, on monarchy and aristocracy alike. Still greater alarm was caused by the decree of the Convention (Nov. 19, 1792), offering to help any people struggling against its rulers. The outbreak of the war effected a transformation in English opinion. Many supporters of the Revolution recanted, e.g. (to mention only a few representative examples) Arthur Young, Mackintosh, Coleridge, Southey. The Church and the universities had all along been antagonistic to the movement; whereas the Nonconformists, who furnished the grand body of sympathisers, remained, on the whole, in favour of it. The latter included such conspicuous unitarians as Dr. Price, Priestley, and Gilbert Wakefield, and leading baptists like Robert Hall. Bentham in his trenchant independent manner attacked the excesses of the Revolution, as well as the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Rights. All these circumstances help to explain the period of reactionary toryism, lasting for some thirty years (1780–1820).
In the meantime the democratic and radical movement was gathering forces from different quarters. Party government in the eighteenth century had betrayed a marked degeneration in many respects. The great whig families had long enjoyed social and political supremacy. There were struggles between the parties for office; and both opposed electoral and judicial reform. The king shared in and interfered with the party game. Parliamentary machinery became corrupt. Now, as against the landed proprietors, a wealthy commercial and manufacturing community was arising. The economic revolution began. Industrial activity was rapidly being emancipated from the harassing and cramping restrictions that had been imposed on it by earlier legislation. The conviction was gradually gaining ground that government interference with industry was an evil; " and the “laisser faire" doctrine was adopted by economists and democrats, though not for the same reasons. They held that with a view to the promotion of liberty government should be confined within the narrowest limits. “All government,” declared Price,” “even within a state, becomes tyrannical as far as it is a needless and wanton exercise of power, or is carried further than is absolutely necessary to preserve the peace or to secure the safety of the state.” Godwin observed that there are only two legitimate objects of government, namely, to suppress injustice against individuals within the community, and to defend the country against external invasion. Non-radicals likewise showed more or less hostility to government interference. Such distrust is found in the writings of tories like Hume and Tucker. Arthur Young” pointed out that the prohibition of the natural course of things and the introduction of restrictive forcible measures in domestic policy are evils. Similarly Burke, whilst not against government coercion in general, for example, in religion, also advocated industrial liberty. He proclaimed * that the main defect of the French monarchy had been “a restless desire of governing too much. The hand of authority was seen in everything and in every place. . . . My opinion is against an overdoing of any sort of administration, and more especially against this most momentous of all meddling on the part of authority, the meddling with the subsistence of the people.” Finally came Adam Smith, whose influence in this direction was supreme. Further, there was a remarkable revival of spiritual and political life among the middle and the lower classes. The disastrous policy of George III with respect to the American colonies was one of the immediate causes of political agitation at home. The Wilkist movement (1768–9) helped to advance radical ideas. Societies and clubs were established. Meetings were held. Pamphlets were distributed. Local authorities forwarded petitions and remonstrances. The shams of party government and the “King's friends” were exposed. The “Friends of the People” in 1793 pointed out that I54 persons actually returned 307 members of parliament, who formed a majority in the House of Commons. As time went on radical ideas were more persistently circulated by the vigorous publications of a number of writers and pamphleteers like Priestley and Price, Major Cartwright and Jebb, Sir William Jones and Granville Sharp, Wynne and Burgh, and were also spread by the speeches of men like Horne Tooke and Sawbridge. The more advanced ideas of thinkers like Godwin and Spence, Aikin and Paine, Wakefield, Fuseli, and Mary Wollstonecraft also gained ground in some quarters. The acquittal of Horne Tooke, Hardy, Holcroft and others in their trial for high treason was a great blow to the government and to toryism. Some of the leading English and French thinkers and reformers met and exchanged views; thus Priestley, Bentham and Romilly had frequent intercourse with Dumont, Morellet, Mirabeau and others. Republicanism also found its avowed adherents in this country. Bentham, aided by able disciples, including both writers and parliamentarians, subjected the whole of English law and government to the most searching examination that had ever been witnessed. In all this multiform conflict between the traditionally constituted powers and the landed aristocracy on the one side and the supporters of popular selfgovernment on the other, the latter eventually triumphed with the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. And this was followed by a remarkable period of Benthamic legislation.
* Cf. Lecky, loc. cit. * Observations on Civil Liberty and the Justice and Policy of the War with America (1776).
* Enquiry concerning Political Justice (1793). * Political Arithmetic (1774–9). * Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795), ad fin.
(ii) CRIME AND CRIMINAL LAW
In the previous essay the nature of the continental criminal law and administration in the eighteenth century has been explained and their main defects and abuses have been pointed out. In our own country—with the notable exceptions as to the use of torture and the inquisitorial procedure—conditions were in many respects very much similar.
Owing to the absence of reliable statistics, it is difficult to estimate exactly the amount and fluctuations of crime in England at this time. On the whole it would appear that violent crimes against the person, and especially murder, were diminishing, but that many kinds of offences against property were increasing. During the distress prevailing in the years 1767 to 1771, in particular, there was an extraordinary outbreak of crime. The stringent Game. Laws, keeping pace with the extension of enclosures, were responsible for a great number of prosecutions. With the exception of a few specified cases, no one was entitled to shoot or fish even on his own grounds, unless he possessed a freehold estate of at least £100, or a leasehold of at least £150. The sale of game was forbidden; and the punishment for poaching, as may be guessed, was very severe. With the industrial changes, and the rapidly growing price of food towards the end of the century, crimes against property became more frequent. Through the obviously inadequate police administration, large numbers of delinquents escaped detection; and the extreme severity of the law gained immunity for other offenders, sometimes by a perverse acquittal on the part of a jury recognising the disproportion between the punishment and the offence, at other times by the unwillingness of injured parties to prosecute and of witnesses to give testimony. What with the deplorable conditions of prisons and public-houses, the criminal section of the community was being rapidly augmented. The roads were insufficiently protected, and wayfarers were at the mercy of highwaymen and footpads, who by no means confined their operations to the countryside, but even found themselves at liberty to enter towns—London, of course, in particular—and ply their trade in public places. Even such comparatively busy quarters as Kensington Gardens, St. James's Square, Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square were not free from them. (Of course there was a greater chance of gaining substantial booty in these places.) Solitary travellers rarely ventured after nightfall on Blackheath or Hounslow Heath, on Finchley Common or Clapham Common. Pleasure-seekers or business men from London returned to their houses in organised groups.” The English highwaymen were not given to the ferocity and savagery of the continental brigand; they were frequently broken tradesmen, and sometimes ruined young men of position, who, in many cases, went back to their former life, if they managed for a time. to escape detection. As regards London, one of the best available sources of information respecting criminal activity at the end of the eighteenth century is the valuable work of Patrick Colquhoun, Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, published in 1705, and of which there was a sixth edition only five years later. The author was appointed a metropolitan police magistrate in 1792, and was associated with several schemes of social reform. His figures and statements do not perhaps always command a reader's acquiescence; but the work is none the less an indispensable one. He says London was three miles broad, and twenty-five miles in circumference; that it contained a population in 1801 of 641,000, occupying a chaotic collection of dwellings; and that there were some 20,000 people who got up every morning without knowing how they would get through the day. There were 5,000 public-houses, and 50,000 women supported, wholly or partly, by prostitution. He calculated that the criminals made an annual income of £2,000,000 as a result of their nefarious
practices. The highwaymen constituted a permanent terror to all. There were organised gangs of professional thieves; some were on the river and boarded ships at night, others prowled around the workhouses. They regularly plundered the government dockyards; and frequently the same article was sold several times over to the officials. Half the hackney coachmen were in league with thieves. In the space of twenty years the number of receiving-houses of stolen goods had grown from 300 to 3,000. Coining employed several thousand persons. Gambling increased to an enormous extent. The management of the metropolitan police force was in the hands of a miscellaneous number of authorities—the stipendiary magistrates, the city officials, the justices of the peace for Middlesex, and the seventy independent parishes. There were about a thousand constables, who were artisans or small tradesmen appointed by the parishes for a year without remuneration. A “Tyburn ticket” given as a reward to those who obtained the conviction of a criminal exempted them from the discharge of such duties, and could be purchased for a sum varying from fifteen to twenty-five pounds. There were also some two thousand watchmen, receiving from 8%d. to 2s. a night. “These were the true successors of Dogberry,” as Stephen observes; * and not infrequently the aged or the feeble were appointed in order to keep them out of the workhouse.
The penal code presented a mass of incongruities, absurdities, contradictions, and barbarities. As Colquhoun says,” quoting Bacon, the law was a “heterogeneous mass concocted too often on the spur of the moment.” There had been a capricious, unsystematic accumulation of statutes aimed at the same crimes for which earlier provisions were allowed to remain unrepealed. Different penalties existed for the same offences. Different forms of indictments were necessary for crimes which were similar fundamentally, but varied in certain minor particulars. Thus in the case of receiving stolen goods, several laws were applicable; but one referred exclusively to pewter-pots, another was confined to precious metals; and neither could be used as against receivers of horses or banknotes.” Similarly a prisoner indicted under a statute directed against stealing from ships on navigable rivers, enjoyed immunity, if the barge whereon he committed the theft happened at the time to be aground. Thus it was indispensable
* Op. cit., p. Io9. * Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (1800) p. 7. * Cf. ibid., p. 298.