§ The House having resolved itself into a Committee on the above Bill,
§ On the reading of that clause, by which the punishment was simply restricted to hanging;
moved, "That after the words, 'and there be hanged,' the words, 'and then be beheaded,' should be inserted." He allowed, that the punishment was very shocking, and very horrible; but if it were altered, it would be less severe than it ought to be; and the effect would be proportionably weaker, as it respected the prevention of crime.
§ Sir S. Romilly
would not take the sense of the committee on the amendment, although he by no means approved of it. He did not think that the exposing to public view the mangled remains of a criminal could have any good effect. Men could not be accustomed to look on such horrid sights without becoming hardened and insensible.
§ Mr. Whitbread
observed, that although his learned friend did not mean to take the sense of the House on the amendment, yet he could not help expressing the disgust he felt at the wording of the clause they had just heard read. It was too horrid, he thought, not to disgust every gentleman in the committee.
said, when they were making laws for the infliction of punishment, they must, necessarily, use those words which the hon. gentleman so much disliked. It seemed, however, most extraordinary, when measures of this kind were under consideration, that gentlemen should feel all the pity, for those culprits whom the enactments meant to curb and controul; and none at all for the evils which the public might suffer, if they were not in existence. In the case, for instance, of a successful treason, where war, was levied within the realm, what evils would the public be subjected to? How many houses would be burned—how many murders perpetrated—how many rapes committed! These circumstances were all, it appeared, forgotten, in commiseration of the criminals.
§ Sir S. Romilly
was surprised that the right hon. gentleman, as he was so much attached to the ancient system, did not contend for the propriety of embowelling a man alive. When he assented to the necessity of disgusting exhibitions, why did he not propose that? The right hon. gentleman had spoken, as if he and his friends alone had any care for the general welfare of the state. (Hear, hear, from the Treasury benches.) The sentiment seemed to be cheered, as if it were a just one!—That sentiment, however, which appeared to be levelled against him, he would repel. In every attempt he had made, his object was, to prevent the commission of crime, not to accelerate it. But the right hon. gentleman had condemned himself. Upon his own principle, he had been unmindful of the public safety, since he had agreed to some of the alterations in the criminal law.
did not think that his obser- 540 vations deserved such severe animadversion. What he said was called for, he conceived, by the statement of the hon. gentleman (Mr. Whitbread); and he certainly never meant to insinuate, that the learned gentleman or any other, individual harboured a wish to protect criminals at the expence of justice. He gave the learned gentleman credit for the purity of his motives, and trusted that he would act with equal liberality. He was extremely sorry that on this subject he had the misfortune to differ from a gentleman whose extensive knowledge of the law, and whose general abilities, were entitled to the highest respect.
§ Mr. Whitbread
said, he never wished to protect traitors or treason; but still, he repeated, he could not hear without horror the wording of the clause just read. The right hon. gentleman had often expressed his readiness to assist in a revision of the laws; but, when he came to work his assistance was found to be of a very limited nature. It was a most extraordinary circumstance, in the present day, that there was no gentleman who wanted to obtain a correct opinion on a point of law, however complicated, and how dear soever the interests which it involved, who would not cheerfully appeal to his learned friend, whose theoretical knowledge was fortified and sustained by the greatest experience; he would not hesitate to put his estate, his character, his life, into the hands of his learned friend; and yet, when he proposed to alter that law of which he was the best judge in the kingdom, he was regarded with jealousy and suspicion—he was looked upon as a man who wished to do mischief to the country. His labours had not, however, been entirely lost. The speeches which he delivered, when he introduced his different alterations, still remained. Some of those alterations he had effected; and, if his life were spared, he would persevere in bringing forward the remainder. But still, he had comparatively laboured, in vain—for he was unceasingly opposed by those who best knew his merits!—The right hon. gentleman said, those who supported the Bill wished to lessen the punishment for high treason, by which the public interests would be endangered. And what did the right hon. gentleman himself propose? To leave the dead body to the disposal of the king!—To have the head cut off, after the criminal was hanged!—Such scenes as these were not fit to be beheld. Well did his learned friend say, 541 that men could not gaze on them with impunity!—The principle was exactly the same as that which taught the police, when the dreadful murders were committed some time ago, to carry the dead body of the suicide, accompanied by the instruments with which he committed the bloody deeds, through the city, in triumph, to appease, as it was said, the fears of the people! This was a most impolitic proceeding—and appeared to him, like the provisions to which the right hon. gentleman was so much attached, as injudicious as it was disgusting.
said, he had proposed nothing. He only endeavoured to preserve that which constituted a part of the ancient law of treason.
§ Mr. Bathurst
argued, that the punishment of treason operated, by the horror which was attached to it, to prevent the commission of the crime. The giving up the bodies of murderers for dissection was equally horrible, yet no complaint was made against that award of the law.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, the objection to decollation did not arise from any wish to lessen the punishment, but from a desire to prevent the occurrence of spectacles which tended to destroy every vestige of feeling in the breasts of those who witnessed them. As to the giving up of bodies for dissection, it was, with respect to the study of anatomy, attended with good effects.
§ Mr. Whitbread
observed, that the same Act which authorized the bodies of male factors to be given up for dissection, also gave a discretionary power to the judge to order them to be hung in chains. The latter custom had, however, been abandoned for years; it was found not to operate in the slightest degree to the prevention of crimes, while it placed before the public eye the most disgusting spectacles. The dissection of Bodies had not that effect.—The public were not, in that case, shocked with any horrid exhibition, beyond the death of the criminals.
§ The clause, as amended, was then agreed to.—The House resumed, and the Report was ordered to be received on Friday.