IMPRISONMENT FOR DEBT.
THE praise of the intelligent and humane is due to the Solicitor- General, for having at length taken up this abuse, and proposed a remedy for it. We feared that the notice of motion would have been thrown overboard, like the notices of so many other accom- modating gentlemen, who cast their measures over the side at the
mere signal of Lord ALTHORP, when it was understood there was
a remote danger of running foul of the Dogdays. Some sailors are called mere fair-weather seamen : our legislators are mere cold-weather statesmen. Mr. Rum tells us that he proposed to meet the Commission for settling the disputes of America and this country on the 1st September. "Oh, spare us !" they cried with one voice, "it is the first day of Partridge-shooting !" Mr. Rum no doubt marvelled at the manner in which John Bull per- mitted his business to be done : but he was far too polite to say any thing, though, no doubt, he calculated that would have made a poor excuse to Congress.
From the lateness of the hour at which Sir JOHN CAMPBELL was driven to give some account of his bill, he appears to have confined himself to one part of the subject,—namely, as to how the interests of the creditor might be secured, and to the better means of recovering debts than by the present system.
It is absolutely necessary that some safe and easy mode of re- covering debts should be substituted for the self-deftating plan of imprisonment: but the grand thing wanted is some uniform and intelligible law, by which all kinds of property should be put on the same footing, and that the creditor should know exactly w hat he has to trust to. For it is this which will regulate the giving of credit. If the tradesman sees clearly that he is imperfectly se- cured, he will withhold his credit; if he has ample security, he will give it without fear. The present system is a complete lot- tery: the creditor cannot tell whether the property of his debtor is available or not — indeed, he has no means of discovering; whether he has any—all lie knows is, that he can send his debtor to gaol, but of the efficacy of such a means of compulsion he can tell nothing. By cluing so, he may destroy all chance of ever being paid; or the debtor may be careless of confinement, or, angry at being confined, spend his money in gaol and defy his creditor. Some men will make vast efforts to escape the degradation of gaol, others none. But who are those that will make the vast efforts to avoid gaol ?—the honest debtor, who would pay if he were let alone —who has not property, or property he cannot realize ; a man, that is to say, whom it is a dreadful injustice to throw into gaol. And where is the use of putting in others ; unless it is to accom- plish them in knavery, or corrupt the few good principles that may remain with them?
After the unnecessary infliction of the horrors of gaol, the next crying evil is the immense sums of money squandered in the pro- cess of sending a man there. The Solicitor-General stated in the House, that the expense of bail alone was 300,0001. per annum. But this is only one item out of many : the fees and extortions and purchase of privileges, in the King's Bench alone, are said to cost 50,0001. per annum. All this, and much more—to the extent, it is calculated, of several millions—comes out of the property of in- solvents! and instead of being paid into the hands of the credi- tors, goes into the pockets of bailiffs, gaolers, attornies, and all the rest of the rabble rout that prey upon misfortune. " The expense of insolvency is enormous ! " said the Solicitor-General : does not the sentence sound as if taken from Candide, or some satire on the manner in which human affairs are conducted?
These immense expenses not only do not profit the creditor, but who is it that they ruin? They come upon him who can least bear it—the man struggling against adverse circumstances—he who, perhaps, only wants a little time or a little indulgence to pay all. Thus, they not only draw the sum from his pocket which he can hardly pay, but they cause the sacrifice of all they leave behind, and all the product of his efforts to come. Here is, loss upon loss —the misery of a struggle followed by the despair of ruin. The expenses of imprisonment are not merely what the harpies of the law get, but all they spoil. And it is not mere property that is consumed by this barbarous abomination. The corruption going on in our crowded gaols is such, that the dispirited debtor seldom bears up against its baneful influence; and not only they, but their wives and children, suffer from the effects of desertion, penury, and the contagion of the gaol : one hundred and forty thousand, it is calculated, annually come with- in the demoralizing sphere of our pestiferous prisons. And then, is all the heartbreaking, the domestic distress, and the debtor's own bitter agony at being dragged off to durance like a slave—are all these to go for nothing ? May they not figure with the items of money-loss? Will they not swell the balance ? Sighs and groans are surely to be listened to as well as the jingling of silver. But here both must be taken into account, and on the same side. Hu- manity, reason, the welfare of the people, the security of trade, all plead for the abolition of a barbarous and revolting practice, in be- half of which there is not a single argument to be urged beyond the "vested" interests of a tribe of lock-up-house-keepers, and a not less Jewish race of low attornies, who live by the wretched practice of legal kidnapping.
Sir JOHN CAMPBELL expressed a fear lest he should not be able to carry his bill this session. Why not? What should stand in the way of abrogating this vile abuse. Is there any other measure which will secure so much good at the expense of so little evil ? A legislator might even brave the Dogdays to rescue so many thousands of his fellow-subjects from the moral destruc- tion of a foolish and useless imprisonment.