10 February 1772140

    Messieurs EDES & GILL,

    WE have heard much in our public prints of the exemplary treatment of one EBENEZER RICHARDSON, who many months ago, was in due course of law found guilty of wilful murder. It has never been pretended that the jury of trial were infamous or corrupted. We have frequently had broad hints, that political motives influenced to a delay of judgment and execution of this criminal: This matter ought to be seriously considered by the whole community.141 If political views should ever actuate the Judges of the land, who have the lives, liberty and property of us all in their power, society is worse than a state of nature: because the members of it have a greater opportunity, more abilities to do mischief, less danger of detection, and a more flattering prospect of impunity. These are incitements to villainy, which human nature in it’s present state cannot withstand.—To consider the dangers to which citizens are exposed, when justice is retarded, and the course of the laws diverted by the power and influence of the great and guilty, is the duty of all good men.

    Do, my countrymen, use the faculties, which GOD has given you—think—weigh—and consider.

    Punishment loses it’s efficacy, when it does not immediately overtake the criminal. A delay in punishing, begets either a doubt of the heinousness of the crime, the truth of the fact, or the integrity of administration. It is a bad omen, when this takes place.

    A subject should never have reason to believe that those who are set over him, are deserving of the halter and gibbet. This he will be prone to do, when he can account for the manoeuvres of the magistrate upon no principle of reason, law, good conscience or policy.

    A goal was never intended for punishment; but only to hold the debtor, till he fulfilled his voluntary contracts; the Suspected, till his offence could be conveniently ascertained; and the convicted, till speedy justice could be executed.

    Being a citizen of the world, I cite no mouldy authors to confirm my observations:—the book of nature and volume of society are my authorities. The well-tempered substance contained in these, are too elastic to suffer by the wrestings and twistings of a black gown or a scarlet robe: I have often smiled, to see grave and learned lawyers, cite and recite, as if they thought all wisdom existed a century ago, and no improvements were every day making in the circle of the arts and sciences.

    I am, Messi’rs Printers, one of your better sort of people: zealous for the dignity of government; strenuous to support administration (as the phrase is.) It gives me much pain, when I find governmental matters indefencible. I too like other great men have my travels. But as I make a conscience of not saying what I disbelieve, I am often non-plused with the home-spun reasonings of my plain-spoken countrymen.

    The vulgar in substance argue thus, Mess. Printers, and YOUR BETTERS (gentlemen) ought to know it.

    This Richardson is either guilty or innocent.—If guilty, why not punished; if innocent, why not released. TWENTY TWO months imprisonment for a capital crime—in a tormenting suspense between life and death—is what no man undeserving of death ought to bear. Either the laws want mending, or the ministers of justice want something else.

    To say his cause is difficult, is to say nothing of weight. All men are innocent, till they are proved guilty. There ought in every well regulated state to be some order of men whose business it should be to try this matter, and whose decision should be conclusive. Surely within this two years past, affairs of much less importance than the life or imprisonment of a citizen have been heard and ended in our courts. Therefore they who have the face to pretend that there has not been time enough to determine touching this prisoner, I trust would not blush to make a much worse pretext.

    Is Richardson kept in goal in order to recommend him to mercy? The honour of magistracy ought openly to avow it:—the wisdom of the recommenders ought to justify it. A secret cunning-like conduct in persons of judicial characters is base, odious and execrable! It is base, because little: odious, because wicked: execrable, because destructive of social security and happiness.

    The pretence that Richardson has been a profligate and abandoned wretch, is no good argument for his present treatment. At most, it should operate only to deter an application for extraordinary efforts of royal grace. Public justice can take no cognizance of facts not in issue; it can punish nothing but what is legally established. A dangerous doctrine this, that imprisonment can be justifiy’d upon a principle, that is too absurd and wicked to be openly avowed.

    In short, Mess. Printers, the serious part of the people are conscientiously uneasy:—the sagacious and penetrating think that those consequences may flow from this precedent which destroy individuals and ruin communities. And those who are acquainted with the human heart, know, that a precedent which will warrant oppression, is soon consumed by usage.

    PUBLIC JUSTICE should never be suspected. I have heard arguments brought to justify all manner of political and judicial movements. But I have seen “no tolerable colouring” given this affair. All are enquiring, but none can answer. There was a story propagated—I hope it is not true—that a certain—publickly said, “when the people have done calling upon us, something may be done—but, for my part, at present I am for doing nothing about it.”

    For GOD’s sake, Have the people no right to ask questions about the progress of justice thro’ the land—the progress of criminal justice too? When a breach of criminal law is made, it is the publick who are injured by the infraction:—this gave rise to the crown law—this alone (to speak as a citizen) warrants it’s progress.—Shall the injured not call for redress?

    Say you imprisonment is punishment enough. If he is convicted of any crime, it deserves DEATH. If of no crime, the punishment is undeserved. If he is held in order to give an opportunity to enquire into the truth of the offence; time hath already been given—every day puts it more and more out of the power of man to ascertain the truth of the case. The accused is injured then. Public justice is impeach’d. He who is thrown into a prison will complain, unheard; he will languish, unpitied. Let not the infamy of the man give origin to an acquiesence in unjustifiable confinement; all imprisonment is oppression, that is not necessary for the advancement of justice. Patience to hear, is the honour of a judge: but celerity of execution is a first principle of justice. For the safety of the people, prisons were erected: They, for whose sake the prisoner is confined, are bound by the laws of GOD to see that the rights of the prisoner are not forgotten: for prisoners, have their rights as well as all other men. Remember my friends & countrymen, remember PUBLIC JUSTICE is in question—THE PEOPLE are interested—they are injured. COMPLAINT IS THE PREROGATIVE OF THE INJURED. No order of men are too high to be called upon—too honest to exclude suspicion—too good to be drawn aside of their own hearts—too pure to be tempted—or too powerful to be amesned142 to the tribunal of the public, and punished by—THE PEOPLE.—Remember this important truth—What is law for a Richardson, is law for a SIDNEY. If oppression is warranted by law, the PATRIOT is much more likely to fall a victim than the pimp and pander. HAMPDENS will stain the scaffold with blood, while a robber or murderer finds a city of refuge.143

    No tyranny so secure, none so intollerable, none so dangerous, none so remediless, as that of EXECUTIVE COURTS!