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strangely inadequate, - its main security being the body of the debtor. This became the property of the creditor, until the debt was paid. The ancients allowed a creditor to seize his debtor and hold him in slavery. It was a cruel practice, condemned by the most enlightened lawgivers ;but it was more rational and humane than the law of England. By servitude a man might work out his debt: by imprison. ment, restitution was made impossible. A man was torn from his tra le and industry, and buried in a dungeon: the debtor perished, but the creditor was unpaid. The penalty of an unpaid debt, however small, was imprisonment for life. A trader within the operation of the bankrupt laws might obtain his discharge, on giving up all his property ; but for an insolvent debtor, there was no possibility of relief, but charity or the rare indulgence of his creditor. His body being the property of his creditor, the law could not interfere. He might become insane, or dangerously sick : but the court was unable to give him liberty. We read with horror of a woman dying in the Devon County Jail, after an imprisonment of forty-five years, for a debt of 191.2

While the law thus trifled with the liberty of debtors, it took no thought of their wretched fate, after the prison-door had closed upon them. The traditions prixons. of the debtors' prison are but too familiar to us all. The horrors of the Fleet and Marshalsea were laid bare in 1729. The poor debtors were found crowded together on the “com. A mon side," — covered with filth and vermin, and suffered to die, without pity, of hunger and jail-fever. Nor did they suffer from neglect alone. They had committed no crime: yet were they at the mercy of brutal jailers, who loaded them with irons, and racked them with tortures. No at

i Solon renounced it, finding examples amongst the Egyptians. -- Plutarch's Life of Solon ; Diod. Sic., lib. i. part 2, ch. 3; Montesquieu, livr. xii. ch. 21. It was abolished in Rome, A. R. 428, when the true principle was thus defined: -"Bona debitoris, non corpus obnoxium esset." -- Livy, lib. 8; Montesquieu, livr. xx. ch. 14. 2 Rep. of 1792, Com. Journ., xlvii. 647. 8 Com. Journ., xxi. 274, 376, 513


The Thatchedhouse So

tempt was made to distinguish the fraudulent from the unfor. tunate debtor. The rich rogue able, but unwilling to pay his debts — might riot in luxury and debauchery, while his poor, unlucky fellow-prisoner was left to starve and rot on the common side.” 1

The worst iniquities of prison-life were abated by the active benevolence of John Howard ; and poor debtors found some protection, in common with felons, from the brutality of jailers. But otherwise their sufferings were without mitigation. The law had made no provision for supplying indigent prisoners with necessary food, bedclothes, or other covering ;? and it was proved, in 1792, that many died of actual want, being without the commonest necessaries of life. The first systematic relief was given to insolvent debtors

by the benevolence of the Thatched House So

ciety, in 1772. In twenty years this noble body ciety, 1772.

released from prison 12,590 honest and unfortunato debtors ; and so trifling were the debts for which these prisoners had suffered confinement, that their freedom was obtained at an expense of forty-five shillings a head. Many were discharged merely on payment of the jail-fees, for which alone they were detained in prison : others on payment of costs, the original debts having long since been discharged."

The monstrous evils and abuses of imprisonment for debt, Exposure

and the sufferings of prisoners, were fully exposed of abuses, in an able report to the House of Commons, drawn

by Mr. Grey in 1792. But for several years 1 Rep. 1792, Com. Journ., xlvii. 652; Vicar of Wakefield, ch. XXV.xxviii.

2 Report, 1792, Com. Journ., xlvii. 641. The only exception was under the act 32 Geo. II. c. 28, of very partial operation, under which the detaining creditor was forced to allow the debtor 4d. a day; and such was the cold cruelty of creditors, that many a debtor confined for sums under 208. was detained at their expense, which soon exceeded the amount of the debt. Ibid., 614, 650. This allowance was raised to 38. 6d. a week by 37 Geo. III. c. 85.

8 lbil., 651.
4 Report, 1792, Com. Journ., xlvii. 648.
6 Com. Journ., xlvii. 640.

1792 and


these evils received little correction. In 1815 the prisons were still overcrowded, and their wretched inmates left without allowance of food, fuel, bedding, or medical attendance. Complaints were still heard of their perishing of cold and hunger.

Special acts had been passed, from time to time, since the reign of Anne, for the relief of insolvents; but they were of temporary and partial operation. Debtors'

Act, 1813 Overcrowded prisons had been sometimes thinned: but the rigors and abuses of the laws affecting debtors were unchanged; and thousands of insolvents still languished in prison. In 1760, a remedial measure of more general oper ation, was passed : but was soon afterwards repealed.3 Provision was also made for the release of poor debtors in certain cases :* but it was not until 1813 that insolvents were placed under the jurisdiction of a court, and entitled to seek their discharge on rendering a true account of all their debts and property. A distinction was at length recognized between poverty and crime. This great remedial law restored liberty to crowds of wretched debtors. In the next thirteen years upwards of 50,000 were set free. Thirty years later, its beneficent principles were further ex- ures of relief tended, when debtors were not only released from confinement, but able to claim protection to their liberty, on giving up all their goods. And at length, in 1861, the law attained its fullest development : when fraudulent debt was dealt with as a crime, and imprisonment of common debtors

Later meas.

to debtors.

17th March, 1815, Hans. Deb., 1st Ser., xxx. 39; Commons' Report on King's Bench, Fleet, and Marshalsea Prisons, 1815. The King's Bench, calculated to hold 220 prisoners, had 600; the Fleet, estimated to hold 200, had 769.

? 1 Anne, st. i. c. 25.
8 1 Geo. III. c. 17; Adolph. Hist., i. 17, n.
4 32 Geo. II. c. 28. 33 Geo. III. c. 5.
5 53 Geo. III. c. 102; Hans. Deb., 1st Ser., xxvi. 301, &c.
6 Mr. Hume's Return, 1827 (430).
7 Protection Acts, 5 & 6 Vict. c. 96; 7 & 8 Vict. c. 96.

The negro

case, liil.

was repudiated. Nor did the enlightened charity of the legislature rest here. Debtors already in confinement were not left to seek their liberation : but were set free by the officers of the Court of Bankruptcy. Some had grown familiar with their prison-walls, and having lost all fellowship with the outer world, clung to their miserable cells as to a home. They were led forth gently, and restored to a life that had become strange to them; and their untenanted dungeons were condemned to destruction. The free soil of England has, for ages, been relieved from

the reproach of slavery. The ancient condition of

villenage expired about the commencement of the seventeenth century; * and no other form of slavery was recognized by our laws. In the colonies, however, it was legalized by statute ; 6 and it was long before the rights of a colonial slave, in the mother-country, were a certained. Lord Holt, indeed, had pronounced an opinion that, “as soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free;" and Mr. Justice Powell had affirmed that “ the law takes no notice of a negro." But these just opinions were not confirmed by express adjudication until the celebrated case of James Sommersett in 1771. This negro baving been brought to England by his owner, Mr. Stewart, left that gentleman's service, and refused to return to it. Mr. Stewart had bim seized and placed in irons on board a ship then lying in the Thames and about to sail for Jamaica, where he intended to sell his mutinous slave. But while the negro was still lying on board, he was brought before the Court of King's Bench by habeas corpus. The question was now fully

1 Bankruptcy Act, 24 & 25 Vict. c. 134, § 221. 2 Ibid., $ 98-12.

8 In January, 1862, Joh Mill was removed fro the Queen's Bench Prison, having been there since 1814. – Times, Jan. 231, 1862.

4 Nov. 27. Hargrave's Argument in Negro Case, St. Tr., xx. 40; Smith's Commonwealth, book 2, ch. 10; Barrington on the Statutes, 2d ed., p. 232.

610 Will. III. c. 26; 5 Geo. II. c. 7; 32 Gco. II. c. 31. 6 Smith v. Browne and Cowper, 2 Salk. 666.


discussed, more particularly in a most learned and able argument by Mr. Hargrave; and at length, in June, 1772, Lord Mansfield pronounced the opinion of the Court, that slavery in England was illegal, and that the negro must be set free.

It was a righteous judgment: but scarcely worthy of the extravagant commendation bestowed upon it at that time and since. This boasted law, as declared by Lord Mansfield, was already recognized in France, Holland, and some other European countries; and as yet England had shown no symptoms of compassion for the negro beyond her own shores.

In Scotland, negro slaves continued to be sold as chattels, until late in the last century. It was not until Negroes in 1756, that the lawfulness of negro slavery was questioned. In that year, however, a negro who had been brought to Scotland, claimed bis liberty of his master, Robert Sheddan, who had put him on board ship to return to Virginia. But before his claim could be decided, the poor negro died. But for this sad incident, a Scotch court would first have had the credit of setting the negro free on British soil. Four years after the case of Sommersett, the law of Scotland was settled. Mr. Wedderburn had brought with him to Scotland, as his personal servant, a negro named Knight, who continued several years in his service, and married in that country. But, at length, he claimed his freedom. The sheriff, being appealed to, held that the state of slavery is not recognized by the laws of this kingdom." The case being brought before the Court of Session, it was adjudged that the master had no right to the negro's

i Case of James Sommersett, St. Tr., xx. 1; Lofft's Rep., 1. 2 Hargrave's Argument, St. Tr., XX. 62.

3 Chambers' Domestic Annals of Scotland, iii. 453. . On the 20 May, 1722, an advertisement appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Courant, announcing that a stolen negro had been found, who would be sold to pay expenses, unless claimed within two weeks. Ibid,

See Dictionary of Decisions, tit. Slave, iii. 14,545.


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