6 MARCH 1880, Page 8

THE HARTMANN EXTRADITION CASE. T HE French Government may be sincerely

pitied for the misfortune of having a Nihilist as their guest. 'What- ever they do with him, they will find the result annoying. Sovereigns, at all events, may be forgiven if they fail to see the innocence of murder when they themselves are the objects of it ; and if the French Government refuse to give up Hartmann, it will not make their relations with the Czar, or, indeed, with foreign monarchs generally, any the pleasanter. On the other hand, habitual conspirators, and those who sympathise with them, decline to admit that, though an attack upon a system of government is a strictly political offence, an attack upon the ruler in whom that system is embodied is an ordinary crime. If, therefore, the French Government act upon this view, they will grievously offend the Extreme Left. In the position which the French Cabinet holds, it may reasonably dislike to incur either of these inconveniences. Though Russia may have motives of her own for not pushing matters to extremes, Germany may not be unwilling to take up her para- ble on the wickedness of a Power which allows its terri- tory to be a sanctuary for assassins. If M. de Freycinet, dreading this, elects to give Hartmann up, the votes which he has so painfully been inviting will probably be lost 'to him, and the Ministry will descend to that level of Parliamen- lazy impotence which it permanently occupied under M. Wad- dington. The best hope that can be expressed on his behalf is that this equal conflict of interests will make it the easier for him to disregard both, and determine the question simply on its merits.

There is no Treaty of Extradition between France and Russia, but the French Government have constantly declared that the surrender of criminals is a part of international cour- tesy. The duty is defined by treaties, not created by them. As, however, Treaties of Extradition are in force with several -countries, the limits within which this duty is exercised are perfectly well known ; and the French Government cannot con- cede to Russia, with whom France has no treaty, what they have refused to concede to the Powers with whom France has made treaties. In this way, the exclusion of political offences from the list of crimes which justify extradition has become completely established. Consequently, the controversy about Hartmann, supposing his complicity in the attempt to destroy the Czar's train to be established to the satisfaction of the French Law-Courts, narrows itself to this,—Is an attempt to murder a Sovereign a political crime ? Is the motive to be held to excuse the act, or does the act infect the motive with its own guilt ? To this question only one answer can possibly be given. If we admit that murder ceases to be murder when the victim is a Sovereign, we make a crime against the State a less offence than the same crime committed against an individual. In other words, we offer direct encouragement, in the sense of immunity from punishment as soon as the frontier is crossed, to crimes which, in their consequences, may be infinitely more disastrous than any possible injury inflicted on a private person. Murder, whether of a subject or of a Sovereign, hurts the victim, and those who are dependent on him. But, in a large sense, those who are dependent on a Sovereign— of those, that is, who suffer more or less by the disturbance and uncertainty which a serious attempt at regicide spreads through the whole community—are infinitely more numerous. The French Government have recognised this distinction, in the extradition treaties they have concluded with various Powers, the murder or attempted murder of the chief of a foreign State, or of any of his family, being expressly excluded from the category of political offences. As soon as we attempt to define the obligation in words, the impossibility of taking any other course than this becomes evident. To draw a distinction between the two kinds of murder which shall have the effect in every country, except the murderer's own, of entirely exempting him from all penalties would be to de- clare that the murder of Sovereigns is not a crime at all. It would become merely a violation of a bye-law, an act which is punishable under some local law, but not necessarily deserving of punishment in its own nature, or for its own sake. This would certainly not be a moral way of looking at the subject, and considering how mischievous political assassinations in- variably are, how they defile the best causes if they unfor- tunately come to be associated with them, and how in the long- run they are the most fatal obstacles to genuine political reforms, it would also be a highly inexpedient way of looking at it. Assassination and insurrection stand upon wholly different levels in this respect. Insurrection is an appeal to the nation to decide between two claimants to the supreme authority, and, under certain circumstances, the interests of law and order may be intimately connected with the victory of the insurgents. The presumption, it is true, is usually against an insurrection, but it is a presumption which is capable of being disproved. The presumption against assassination is historically beyond dispute. No good cause has ever been helped by it. A good cause may occasionally have succeeded in spite of it, but in that ease the forces which secured success would have been strong enough to win without assassination. It is of great importance, therefore, that civilised communities should not draw distinctions in practice between political and other murders. A common element of crime is present in both of them, and it is impossible to ignore that common element without provoking evil consequences of a very grave kind.

On the other hand, the popular sentiment does—at all events, when the crime is committed in a foreign country— recognise a distinction dependent on the respective motives of the two acts. Though as regards consequences, the murder of a Sovereign may be worse than the murder of an individual, it is not so in the estimation of the murderers. The man who kills another for revenge or for gain is perfectly aware that he is doing wrong. The object which he has in view is an entirely selfish one. (In the few cases of which this may con- ceivably not be true—such as murders of masters by work- men, or of planters by slaves—the crime partakes of the nature of the murder of a Sovereign ; the blow is directed against a system as well as against an individual.) The man who kills the Chief of the State may be fully persuaded that he is doing right. The object which he has in view may have no tinge of selfishness in it. He may honestly intend to benefit his fellow-countrymen, at the risk of his own life. Conse- quently, there will always be persons who will dis- like the extradition of political murderers, and who will argue that the goodness of their intentions in some way atones for the badness of the action. So far as the general principle of Extradition goes, no attention can be paid to these pleas in extenuation. There are many degrees of wickedness in the motives of ordinary murderers, but the law wisely declines to take this distinction into account. There is one point, however, in which this sentiment has a fair title to be considered. There is an unfortunate tendency on the part of despotic Governments to treat enormity of guilt as in some way tantamount to clearness of proof. A man who stands charged with attempting the murder of a Sove- reign will usually have been mixed up with the con- spiracies out of which this crime has sprung, even though he may not have been an accomplice in the par- ticular offence charged against him. There is some danger lest this general complicity should be confounded with par- ticular complicity, and a man against whom nothing has, strictly speaking, been proved, except the keeping of bad poli- tical company, may be condemned and punished for a greater offence which has not been proved against him. Supposing that Hartmann were sent back to Russia, and then tried and executed upon evidence which failed to satisfy the French public, many Frenchmen would feel indignant at an unjust condemnation in which they would seem to have been par- takers. It is only reasonable, therefore, that the French Government should insist upon the production of con- clusive testimony to the truth of the charges brought against Hartmann. In the case of persons charged with ordinary murders, there is no fear that their own Government will deal with them more hardly than they deserve. In the case of persons charged with political murders, the security is much less complete.