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That our country is rapidly passing through a startling transition process, is not only freely acknowledged, but is very largely hailed as matter of national gloriation. Not the least clearly defined and practically interesting of the social and moral phases which are gradually developing themselves, is the revulsion, within the last thirty years, of the popular feeling against the assumed sanguinary character of our present penal code. The infliction of the extreme penalty of the law for the atrocious crime of murder, and especially by the dread publicity of the scaffold, is very extensively and tenaciously held to be outrageously repugnant to the merciful genius of the religion of Jesus, insulting to the dignity of a rational creature, and degrading to the character of our common humanity. Nor is such sensational reasoning, for not only a relaxation of the highly dramatized horrors of a public execution, but for the abolition of capital punishment, restricted to the masses and less educated part of the community; but it comprises a large portion of the logic of our popular journalism, the attractive eloquence of the senate, the calmness of the jury-box, the sensational theology of the pulpit, and, perhaps, all these in combination operating upon the amiable disposition of the occupant of the throne. The present temper of the age,
and especially in this manifestation of itself, is another and instructive instance of those periodical extremes to which popular feeling or frenzy is proverbially subject. Almost from time immemorial, down till about the year 1810, the criminal law of our country, on the hard plea of protecting political and ever shifting commercial interests, was so bloated with sanguinary enactments that the penalty of death was affixed to more than six hundred different crimes. Such an outrage upon the first principles of criminal jurisprudence, such a glaring display of a thoroughly selfish and cruel legislation, loudly demanded the expurgation of a code clearly chargeable with legalized murder. This work of legislative expiation enlisted the high and varied intellect, the accurate legal acquirements, and the Christian philanthropy of Sir Samuel Romilly, who cheerfully and reverentially devoted them to the moral honour of his country. On Sir Samuels
lamented death, his sacred task was taken up and successfully prosecuted by the late Sir James Mackintosh, about the year 1818; and now statute law, practically at least, has abolished the punishment of death for every crime save murder.
From the more recent and steadily increasing frequency with which this heinous crime is committed, the novel and scientific modes according to which it is perpetrated, and especially the aversion of juries to bring in a verdict of guilty, and almost invariably accompanying such a verdict with pressing recommendations of mercy to the crown, the question of capital punishment is acquiring a rare interest, inasmuch as the popular voice goes to ignore and repudiate what the labours of Sir Samuel Romilly and Sir James Mackintosh have achieved. It is felt, therefore, that something of a more tangible character is required for preventing the more amiable features from stealing a march upon, and from over-riding, the calmer and more merciful dictates of an enlightened understanding. It is in compliance with the request of a respectable number who are professionally versant with the perplexing niceties of the question, and whose judgment and experience claim deference, that the author has ventured to address himself to the moral
aspects of this darkest of crimes, by aiming at reaching the practical mean betwixt elaborate and subtilized productions, and those of a fragmentary and ephemeral character. And this desideratum he proposes supplementing without the meaningless parade of legal technicalities and special pleading; having, as his one and distinctive object, the indoctrination of the popular mind with a sound and practically intelligible exposition of the sixth precept of the moral law, the salutary requirements of civil justice, and the clear-toned claims of public mercy. In other words, he believes it will by no means be an arduous task to show, that the main plea of the abolitionists assumes what no system of ethics has hitherto demonstrated, and what the penal jurisprudence of every age and of every nation has practically ignored, that our depraved, our essentially selfish nature, has a self-recuperative power. This false estimate of fallen humanity is the foundation and chief corner-stone of the unstable edifice of modern abolitionism, an assumption alike opposed to revelation and reason, and contradicted by universal experience.
Our very formidable, and, to mere sentimentalists, very forbidding title, that Murder is Britain's crime, and will be Britain's ruin,' is intended to indicate that we design to charge