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the prisoners had been deprived of liberty for a single hour, on the evidence of informers alone, which was never acted on, unless corroborated by other andoubted testimony."
Indemnity was granted for the past: but the discussions which it provoked, disclosed, more forcibly than Habeas ever, the hazard of permitting the even course of corpus Act the law to be interrupted. They were not with- respected. out their warning. Even Lord Sidmouth was afterwards satisfied with the rigorous provisions of the Six Acts; and, while stilling public discussion, did not venture to propose another forfeiture of personal liberty. And happily, since his time, ministers, animated by a higher spirit of statesmanship, have known how to maintain the authority of the law, in England, auftwithout the aid of abnormal powers.
In Ireland, a less settled state of society, -- agrarian outrages, - feuds envenomed by many deeds of blood, Suspension
– and dangerous conspiracies, have too often called of thabras
But perhaps the greatest anomaly in our laws, - the most
1 Feb. 17th, 1818, Hans. Deb., 1st Ser., xxxvii. 499, 881, 953, &c.
2 It was suspended in 1800, at the very time of the Union; from 1802 till 1805; from 1807 till 1810; in 1814; and from 1822 till 18:24.
8 Hans. Deb., 3d Ser., c. 696-755.
signal exception to personal freedom, -- is to be found in the Impress
custom of impressment for the land and sea ser
vice. There is nothing incompatible with freedom in a conscription or forced levy of men for the defence of the country. It may be submitted to, in the freest republic, like the payment of taxes. The services of every subject may be required, in such form as the state determines. But impressment is the arbitrary and capricious seizure of individuals from among the general body of citizens. It differs from conscription, as a particular confiscation differs from a general tax. The impressment of soldiers for the wars was formerly
exercised as part of the royal prerogative; but Impresg. ment for the among the services rendered to liberty by the
Long Parliament, in its earlier councils, this custom was condemned, “ except in case of necessity of the sudden coming in of strange enemies into the kingdom, or except” in the case of persons "otherwise bound by the tenure of their lands or possessions.”The prerogative was discontinued : but during the exigencies of war, the temptation of impressment was too strong to be resisted by Parliament.
The class on whom it fell, however, found little sympathy from society. They were rogues and vagabonds, who were held to be better employed in defence of their country, than in plunder and mendicancy. During the American war, impressment was permitted in the case of all idle and disorderly persons, not following any lawful trade or having some substance sufficient for their maintenance. Such men were seized upon, without compunction, and hurried to the war. It was a dangerous license, repugnant to the free spirit of our laws; and, in later times, the state has trusted to bounties and the recruiting sergeant, and not to impressment, - for strengthening its land forces.
1 16 Charles I. c. 28. 2 l'arl. Hist., xv. 547. 8 19 Gco. III. c. 10; Parl. Hist., xx. 114.
But for manning the navy in time of war, the impressment of seamen has been recognized by the com
Impress. mon law and by many statutes. The bardships ment for the and cruelties of the system were notorious. No violation of natural liberty could be more gross. Free men were forced into a painful and dangerous service, not only against their will, but often by fraud and violence. Entrapped in taverns, or torn from their homes by armed pressgangs, in the dead of night, they were hurried on board ship, to die of wounds or pestilence. Impressment was restricted by law to seamen, who, being most needed for the fleet, chiefly suffered from the violence of the press-gangs. They were taken on the coast, or seized on board merchantships, like criminals : ships at sea were rifled of their crews, and left without sufficient hands to take them safely into port. Nay, we even find soldiers employed to assist the pressgangs : villages invested by a regular force : sentries standing with fixed bayonets; and churches surrounded, during divine service, to seize seamen for the fleet.
The lawless press-gangs were no respecters of persons. In vain did apprentices and landsmen claim ex- Press-gangs. emption. They were skulking sailors in disguise, or would make good seamen at the first scent of salt-water; and were carried off to the sea ports. Press-gangs were the terror of citizens and apprentices in London, of laborers in villages, and of artisans in the remotest inland towns. Their approach was dreaded like the invasion of a foreign enemy. To escape their swoop, men forsook their trades and families and fled, or armed themselves for resistance. Their deeds have been recounted in history, in fiction, and in song. Outrages were of course deplored; but the navy was the pride of England, and every one agreed that it must
i Sir M. Foster's Rep., 154; Stat. 2 Rich. II. c. 4; 2 & 3 Phil., and Mary c. 16, &c.; 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 24; Barrington on the Statutes, 331; Blackstone, i. 425 (Kerr); Stephen's Comm., ü. 576; Parl. Hist., vi. 518.
? Parl. Hist., xv. 544, xix. 81, &c.
be recruited. In vain were other means suggested for manning the fleet, — higher wages, limited service, and increased pensions. Such schemes were doubtful expedients: the navy could not be hazarded : press-gangs must still go forth and execute their rough commission, or England would be lost. And so impressment prospered. So constant were the draughts of seamen for the American
war, that in 1779 the customary exemptions from Retrospective Act,
impressment were withdrawn. Men following 1779.
callings under the protection of various statutes were suddenly kidnapped, by the authority of Parliament, and sent to the fleet ; and this invasion of their rights was effected in the ruffianly spirit of the press-gang. A bill proposed late at night, in a thin house, and without notice, avowedly in order to surprise its victims, – was made retrospective in its operation. Even before it was proposed to Parliament, orders had been given for a vigorous impressment, without any regard to the existing law. Every illegal act was to be made lawful; and men who had been seized in violation of statutes, were deprived of the protection of
a writ of habeas corpus. Early in the next exAct, 1795.
hausting war, the state, unable to spare its rogues and vagabonds for the army, allowed them to be impressed, with smugglers and others of doubtful means and industry, for the service of the feet. The select body of electors were exempt; but all other men out of work were lawful prize. Their service was without limit: they might be slaves for life.
Throughout the war, these sacrifices of liberty were ex1 See debate on Mr. Luttrell's motion, March 11th, 1777; Parl. Hist., xix. 81. On the 22d Nov., 1770, Lord Chatham said: -"I am myself clearly convinced, and I believe every man who knows anything of the English navy will acknowledge, that, without impressing, it is impossible to equip a respectable fleet within the time in which such armaments are usually wanted." Parl. Hist., xvi. 1101.
2 June 23d, 1779. Speech of the attorney-general Wedderburn; Parl. Hist., xx. 962; 29 Geo. II]. c. 75.
3 36 Geo. III. c. 34.
acted for the public safety. But when the land was once more blessed with peace, it was asked if they would be endured again. The evils of impress- since the ment were repeatedly discussed in Parliament, and schemes of voluntary enlistment proposed by Mr. Hume 1 and others.? Ministers and Parliament were no less alive to the dangerous principles on which recruiting for the navy had hitherto been conducted ; and devised new expedients more consistent with the national defences of a free country. Higher wages, larger bounties, shorter periods of service, and a reserve volunteer force, — such have been the means by which the navy has been at once strengthened and popularized. During the Russian war great fleets were manned for the Baltic and the Mediterranean by volunteers. Impressment, - not yet formally renounced by law,— has been condemned by the general sentiment of the country ; * and we may hope that modern statesmanship has, at length, provided for the efficiency of the fleet, by measures consistent with the liberty of the subject.
The personal liberty of British subjects has further suffered from rigors and abuses of the law. The pervision necessary for the collection of taxes, and especially of the excise, - bas been frequently observed upon, as a restraint upon the natural freedom of the subject. The visits of revenue officers throughout the processes of manufacture, the summary procedure by which penalties are enforced, and the encouragement given to informers, have
1 June 10th, 1824; Hans. Deb., 20 Ser., xi. 1171; June 9th, 1825; Ibid., xiii. 1097.
2 Jr. Buckingham, Aug. 15th, 1833; March 4th, 1834; Hans. Deb., 3d Ser , xx. 691; xxi. 1061; Earl of Durham, March 3d, 1831; Ibid., xxi. 992; Capt. Harris, May 230, 1850; Ibid., cxi. 279.
8 5 & 6 Will. IV. c. 24; Hans. Deb., 3d Ser., xxvi. 1120; xcii. 10, 729; 16 & 17 Vict. c. 69; 17 & 18 Vict. c. 18.
4 The able commission on manning the navy, in 1859, reported “the evidence of the witnesses, with scarcely an exception, shows that the sys. tem of naval impressment, as practised in former wars, could not now be sui cessfully enforced." - p. xi.