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True it is, the criminals deserved no mercy, for this plain reason, that it is impossible to deserve mercy in any case. The very definition of mercy is favor to the undeserving. Mercy was not asked for them because they deserved any good thing; but because they needed every thing, which it should be in the power of piety and benevolence to oba tain for them. That they were not proper subjects of the very limited
favor, which was shown them for a most important end, bas not been : proved. Let all, who are inclined to treat their fellow sinners with
angry severity, consider well on wbat foundation they must themselves stand, in the day of judgment. They will not then think of pleading their own desert, as a reason why mercy should be shown them.
2. There was no usc in giving them further time to repent. The crime was committed more than two years ago; they had been long confined in prison, and on board ship, and if they have not already repented, they will never repent.'
That they had not repented before their trial, was but too manifest on that melancholy occasion. The inference that they would never repent may have been too strong. Prisoners, condemned to die within a short period, are in a very different condition, as to the probability of repentance, from that of high-handed offenders roaming the world at large, or even after they are apprehended and before conviction. Criminals almost invariably hope to escape punishment, till they find themselves sentenced to death, and the day of their execution approaching. Then they are sometimes willing to look into the world to come, to inquire what sort of an account they must render to God, and to hear the tidings of salvation. In such cases, there is great encouragement to preach the Gospel to them; and, if they can receive truly evangelical instruction, there may be much ground of hope concerning them. Many condemned malefactors have given very satisfactory evidence of genuine penitence, and humble piety. The late lamented Dr. Dwight once related to a large congregation at New Haven the story of a man, who was executed for murder at Northampton), about the close of the revolutionary war, and who gave uncommon evidence of baving experienced conversion subsequently to his sentence. The immediate design of the narration was to illustrate the eílicacy of prayer. Some of the outlines of the story are these. The prisoner Was a French officer, who served under La Fayette, and left the army a brevet major. In a drunken quarrel he killed a man in Hampshire county, was tried, and convicted of murder. He was proud, baughty, justified bimself, blamed the court and jury; and, in short, was har. dened in the vices of camps, and rendered callous by the atrocities of War. He was, besides, a bigoted Catholic, and totally ignorant of all religion. He wished to send to Canada for a Romish priest to confess bis sins; and thought he should then be prepared to quit this world in sullen beroism, and look forward to the next with blind confidence; still harboring bitter resentment against all, who had brought him into his unhappy condition, reproaching the laws of the country, and remaining unconscious of the evil of sin. Many pious persons, in that part of the country, felt a deep interest in his case; inultitudes of prayels were offered in his behalf; and great pains were taken to furnisha him with correct religious instruction. He was shown the inefiicacy
of any pardon, which a priest could bestow; the nature of the divine law was explained to him; the enormity of his offences was set before him; and he was exhorted to repent, and believe in Christ. Much time was spent with him in prison; and at length symptoms of religious anxiety, of compunction, of penitence, contrition, and genuine faith, were manifest. "His temper, his feelings, his whole demeanor were wonderfully changed. He entirely acquiesced in the sentence of the law; quietly submitted to it; expressed a deep abhorrence of the crime for wbich he suffered, and of his other numerous sins, and appeared cordially to embrace the distinguishing truths of the Gospel. Dr. Dwight attended him assiduously, during the interval between his trial and execution, as I have learned from other sources, though his agency was not mentioned in the public narration above alluded to. There have been many similar cases, in the history of divine interpositions for the salvation of great sinners. Indeed, the idea that a condemned malefactor is more guilty than thousands, who are never brought to trial in this world; or that he is of course more inaccessible, or his heart more bard and obdurate, than the hearts of immense multitudes in every great community, is entirely without foundation.
But it is alleged,
63. That it is wrong to interfere with the regular course of the laws; and to counteract the decisions of the courts.'
So far as this objection applies to the court, it is sufficient to say, that a day might be fixed for the execution, with an expectation, on the part of the court, that a reprieve would be granted. Reprieves are very common in most governments; they are certainly very common in ours: and entire pardons are by no means unfrequent. This is the first time, that I ever heard a petition for a reprieve, or a pardon, charged with want of respect for the court. The British Jaws, the British government, and the British people, are sanguinary enough, as every body knows: yet how common is it to petition for the interposition of the royal prerogative, in behalf of state criminals. In a case of life and death, to ask for a favor to be granted to poor, miserable, belpless, friendless men, whom the petitioners never saw, and of whom they knew nothing but the general report of their guilt and wretchedness, would not certainly seem to deserve a very severe condemnation; especially if the petition were grounded also on reasons of public utility. But there is an error in talking about interference with the laws, by a petition for a reprieve, or a pardon. When the President pardons a criminal, he acts as much in obedience to the laws, as does the judge who condemns. The supreme law of the land has given him the power, on purpose that he may exercise it, whenever he thinks the public good will be promoted by his interposition.
14. The petitioners might have known, that great public indignation was excited against the pirates, and that there would be a still bigher exasperation produced by a reprieve.'
Public indignation is no safe criterion of right and wrong, of truth and duty. There are persons in the worlıl, (I wish the number were greater,) who do not suppose it necessary, when about to discharge a known duty, to ascertain what the public think about it, or whether they think at all.
65. The prisoners did not ask for a reprieve themselves; what business had others to ask it for thein?'
The gravity with which this and several other objections have been introduced can hardly preserve them from ridicule. The prisoners did not know that a reprieve was possible. When announced to them, they could not understand what it meant. Besides, they were no competent judges of what they needed, or of what would be for their benefit. As to all questions of this kind, they were mere children.
6. All the sailors in port, hearing of the reprieve, would conclude that the pirates would never be hung; and many of them would turn pirates and murderers themselves.'
This statement certainly contains no great compliment to our gallant tars, who are so often toasted, and praised, and flattered. The assertion is altogether a groundless assumption. It cannot be proved, that sailors understand a reprieve to mean a pardon; that when all the newspapers declare, that the President bas only put off the execution 'four weeks, they believe it will therefore never take place. Still less
can it be proved, that the infliction of capital punishment is the grand .preventive of crimes. All who rely upon it principally for this end, will find themselves miserably deceived. A few months ago two men were executed for robbing the mail. Their bodies were hardly dissected before another mail-robbery was committed by culprits, who knew that they should be hung, if they were taken. For many hundred years high-way robbery, and many kinds of theft, bave been punished with death in Great Britain. Yet innumerable thefts and robberies have been perpetrated every year. It is a very idle thing to suppose piracy will be prevented by hanging a few unsuccessful depredators, while piratical vessels are constantly fitting out, in some of our ports, to cruise against the commerce of all nations. A hundred pirates are now educated to their life of villany for one that is even apprehended. But supposing the mere act of hanging men to be as efficacious as you please, the deferring it only makes it the more notorious, and of course increases its efficacy.
7. When punishment is deferred, the people are apt to feel compas. sion for the sufferers, and to think the laws too rigorous.'
It is right that the people should regard criminals with compassion, in every stage of the proceeding; but it is by no means admitted, that the laws have ever been complained of on that account. In no community has there been a more uniform acquiescence in the administration of the laws than in this country.
These are the principal reasons, which have been urged against the reprieve. I should not have thought it necessary to consider them particularly, were it not for the effect, which they might bave on other unhappy men, in similar circumstances.
It is with pain that I now advert to a proceeding, which seems hard to be justified. I refer to the fact, that no clergymen, except those of the Roman Catholic religion, were permitted to visit the prisoners. The mere statement of this fact, in the heart of a Protestant community, will astonish many readers. It is doubtless true, that two of the prisoners were Roman Catholics, so far as they had any religious notions; that is, they had known something of the religious forms in
Catholic countries. They were visited by one of the Romish clergy of Boston; and their two companions concluded to follow their example, and to become Catholics also. It is said, that they expressed a wish not to see any clergyman of another persuasion; and that the Romish clergy declined taking any charge of them, unless they bad the sole charge. Admitting all this to be true, it furnishes no justification for excluding the visits of other clergymen, who applied for admission. As to the men themselves, they were no more capable of deciding what would be for their benefit, than a child four years old. And is it now to be taken for granted, that the instruction of Roman Catholics is just as good as any other? Is it not perfectly known, to every well informed Christian, that the Romish church contains the most monstrous mass of antichristian error? that she is the grand corrupter of the pure religion? that her instructions are, in general, altogether defective? that the common people are taught to rely on forms and ceremonics, prayers to saints, and countless repetitions of sentences in a dead language that they are forbidden the use of the Bible? that the great body of the clergy, in Catholic countries, åre grossly ignorant of religion, and of every thing else? That some real Christians bave been found within her pale is not doubted; though they must have lived under great disadvantages, and in great darkness and delusion. What intelligent parent, having the spiritual welfare of his child at heart, would commit him to the sole instruction of a Romish priest? But it is asked, .What rule shall be adopted? Shall every man, who calls himself a clergyman, be permitted to visit criminals? and shall the prison be crowded with Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Metliodists, and Universalists, all teaching their peculiar tenets at the same time?' To this inquiry I reply, that the best state of things would exist, in this l'espect, if Protestant chaplains were appointed by the government to take the particular charge of all criminals in prison; but more especially of malefactors condemned to die. As this case is not provided for, there would be little danger of evil, in permitting any regular clergyman to visit the prison, and to enter into religious conversation with the convicts, to pray with them, and to offer them religious instruction. Men of sense and of piety would not enter upon religious controversy in such a place, and on such an errand. If all the instructions given were not perfectly consistent with each other, there is an energy in truth, and a blessing frequently with it, that may safely be left to operate on the conscience and the lieart.
That one of the Romish clergy was very assiduous in attending the pirates is not doubted; but that they derived any proper knowledge of The Gospel has not appeared to the public. If they had entertained any just sense of the evil of sin, and had exhibited any marks of contrition, one would think some evidence of the kind would have found its way abroad. On the contrary, every thing evinced the most deplorable ignorance, so far as I can judge from the printed accounts. In a paper left by two of them, they disclaimed, just before their execution, all participation in the murder; though the evidence was strong against them. Nor did they make any proper acknowledgment of the piracy, and of the concealment of the murder, and the division of the plunder, of which they were confessedly guilty.
It was extensively viewed as a melancholy event, that no means of instruction, except those which have been specified, were afforded to these poor perishing malefactors. Two congregational clergymen asked for admittance, with the Marshal's permission in their band, and with the importunity, which the urgency of the case demanded. Yet their request was peremptorily refused by the officer, who had the immediate charge of the prisoners; and no means were found of revoking his decision, though great anxiety was felt for the unhappy sufferers. A tremendous responsibility rests somewhere.
Though the weather was severe, an immense crowd witnessed the executicn; twenty thousand according to the estimate of some. It was mortifying to see multitudes of females, some in coaches, hurrying to such a scene of ignominy and suffering. The levity of a large part of the populace, particularly of sailors, is stated to have been such as not to afford any very distinguished promise of the utility of capital punishments, so far as spectators of executions are concerned.
Many public and private prayers were constantly offered for the prisoners, during the time, which remained to them after the sentence; but it is not to be forgotten, that the preaching of the Gospel is the great instrument of salvation. Prayers may assist preaching, but cannot supersede it.
On the day of execution a very acceptable service was rendered to the cause of good morals, by the distribution of a tract among the crowd. It was written for the occasion, and published by thic Boston Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction of the Poor. Three thousand copies were dispersed, and many more called for. It was solemi, tender, judicious, and impressive.
At the close of this article it may be useful to say a few words, in reference to the assumption, that these pirates were the most guilty of all men; and to the false estimate of human character, which persons in general are apt to form. Bad as these men undoubtedly were, it is easy to see, that much worse men are to be found in the world; men, who would notwithstanding be received into wbat is called the best company, and would be praised, flattered, and admired. From the many classes of great sinners I will select two; and the reader shall judge as to the correctness of my statement.
Look at the slave-trader. A well educated merchant, at Liverpool, twenty years ago, concluding that he could make money faster by irading in human flesh, than by importing foreign merchandize, would build, equip, and send forth ships for the African coast. These shijs would carry desolation along a great extent of the shore. They would promote petty wars, propagate barbarisın, and steal, for every cargo, 500 human beings from their homes, and their families, transport them across the ocean, and sell them into hopeless bondage. In the passage, 150 or 200 would die from ill-treatinent; from confinement in irons, in the noisome hold of a crowded ship, in a hot climate, without rooms enough to lie down on the hard planks. It may be assumed as a moderate estimate, that for every 100 slaves sold in the West Indies, at least 100 were killed in the petty wars in Africa, occasioned by the slave-trade, or died on the passage; that is, for every 100 stolen and sold another hundred were murdered. In the regular lines of the