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'The laws of this country generally favour the debtor at the expense of the creditor, and so far encourage dishonesty. The number of insolvents, in every state, is prodigious and continually increasing. They very seldom pay any part of their debts, but get discharged by the state insolvent acts with great facility, secrete what property they please for their own use, without the creditors being able to touch a single stiver. There is no bankrupt law in the United States, and no appeal in these matters to the federal courts; whence in every state the insolvent acts operate as a general jail delivery of all debtors, and a permanent scheme by which creditors are defrauded of their property. The British merchants and manufacturers who have trusted our people doubtless un derstand this."*
Among the numerous institutions to which England is in debted for its comforts, its security, and its prosperity, we cannot but consider our courts of law to be the most prominent. There is a peculiar character of dignity attached to our judges, which gives them a respectability, almost allied to religious veneration. The nature of their education which requires a considerable degree of seclusion, and their stations which forbid them from being foremost in the circles of even innocent levity, have a tendency to raise their characters, and to inspire a confidence in their decisions, which must be unknown to the people of America. We hear of one of their judges appearing on the bench with a countenance battered in a boxing-match; of another shot because he had approached to attack his neighbour with pistols in his bosom and a concealed dagger; of some engaged in duels as principals and seconds, and of others posted as cowards for declining such contests. In the management of elections, in the fraud of substituting one set of ballots for another, on which the success of the candidate often depends, the judges are the most adroit actors.
If our judges were chosen by the populace, they must court that populace; if they were appointed for a short period, or were removable by the will of a popular and local assembly, they would be deprived of that independence which, as much as their learning, gives weight and character to their judgments. If, as in America, a man could not fill the office of judge after he had attained the age of sixty,
In a single city,' (New York) the author assures us that more than six thousand of its inhabitants were declared insolvent in one year.' We could not have believed this alarming fact on less authority than that of Mr. Bristed, who, from his professional knowledge, must be accurately acquainted with the numbers.
'America (he says) has profited in more ways than one by British capital; that is to say, has grown rich, not merely by the amount and length of credit which the merchants of Britain have given her, but also by her own numberless insolvents having made it a point of conscience never to pay a single stiver to a British creditor. From the peace of 1783 to 1789, the British manufacturers did not receive one third of the value of all the goods, which they sold to their American customers; and since the peace of 1815, up to the present hour, they have not received one-fourth. This horrible piracy upon British property is supported if not created by our system of state insolvent laws.'
this country would have been deprived of some of the most learned, enlightened and honourable men that ever adorned the bench. We do not notice the discrepancy between the laws of different states, though it is a field in which it would be easy to expatiate, and is fruitful in innumerable evils; but that crimes committed in one part of the United States should not be punishable in another, we could not have believed without the authority before us. • For example, (says Mr. Bristed,) if a man steals a horse or kills his neighbour here in New York, and crosses the ferry into the state of New Jersey, he may escape punishment altogether, for the New Jersey law takes no cognizance of a crime committed in the state of New York, and the New York law has no jurisdiction in the state of New Jersey.' A chance indeed, he adds, exists of inflicting punishment, through a provision in the federal constitution; but this constitutional provision has so little efficacy in preventing crimes, that it is the common practice to pass from one state to another to fight duels, which are much more common than in any other country, and more murderous from the superior practice and skill, and the more deliberate deadly coolness with which the Americans aim at each other's life.'
Whilst, from the causes we have seen, the judges are without weight or dignity, the practitioners, who are advocates, solicitors, attornies, proctors, conveyancers, and special pleaders at the same time, exercise their wit if they have any, or their virulence, which they all have, towards those of their profession whom the populace have degraded to the bench. The law is the repository of American talent ; that talent however does not often find its way to the station of judge, but is directed to intrigues for offices of state: hence the bar is the school in which their statesmen have been educated, and hence they have learned all those low practices of vulgar chicanery which are easily imbibed in a profession that teaches acuteness, but is not sufficiently elevated to inspire integrity. All the presidents since Washington, with the exception of Adams, have been lawyers. The secretaries of state, of the navy, and of the treasury, and the diplomatic agents, have been almost uniformly of the same profession; and it may be truly said that the people of America, if not priest-ridden like the Spaniards, are in a worse state, for they are lawyer-ridden.
The practical effect of teaching that the executive should not mix with the legislative power has been to exclude lawyers of the best talents from seats in the Congress. Those of the profession who sit there are usually men with so little practice, that the pay of six dollars per day, which they receive, forms a sufficient inducement for them to abandon their homes, take a passage in a steamboat, live at a cheap boarding-house in Washington, and recommend
themselves by becoming the advocates of their more fortunate brethren, who have obtained places under the president.
The respect which is withheld from the sages of the law does not appear, from Mr. Bristed, to be transferred in any inconvenient degree to the ministers of religion. A church establishment, founded on liberal principles, is one of those blessings to which we are indebted for innumerable benefits: an order of men, selected from all descriptions and classes, from the sons of the peer to those of the trader and the farmer, and set apart to cultivate knowledge, diffuse religion, and promote virtue, must, in spite of individual exceptions, produce a more abundant and beneficial influence than can be dispensed by any other means. This blessing our transatlantic brethren cannot be said to enjoy. Mr. Bristed's account of the state of religion in America deserves the consideration, and, we will add, the commiseration of our readers.
'The late president Dwight declared, in 1812, that there were three millions of souls in the United States, entirely destitute of all religious ordinances and worship. It is also asserted, by good authority, that in the southern and western states societies exist, built on the model of the transalpine clubs in Italy and the atheistic assemblies of France and Germany, and, like them, incessantly labouring to root out every vestige of Christianity: so that in a few years we are in danger of being overrun with unbaptised infidels, the most atrocious and remorseless banditti that infest and desolate human society.
'Indeed many serious people doubt the permanence of the Federal Constitution, because in that national compact there is no reference to the providence of God: We, the people, being the constitutional substitute for Jehovah.
'Of national religion we have not much to boast; a few of our state governments, particularly in New England, and recently in New York, do acknowledge God as the governor among the nations, and occasionally recommend (for they have no power to appoint) days to be set apart for general fasting, prayer and thanksgiving. But the greater number of the states declare it to be unconstitutional to refer to the providence of God in any of their public acts; and Virginia carries this doctrine so far as not to allow any chaplain to officiate in her state legislature; giving as a reason, by an overwhelming majority of her representatives, in December, 1817, that the constitution permits no one religious sect to have preference to any other; and, therefore, as a chaplain must belong to some sect, it would be UNCONSTITUTIONAL for the Virginian legislators to listen to his prayers or preaching.
In the winter of 1814-15 the legislature of Louisiana rejected, by an immense majority, a bill" For the better observance of the Sabbath; for punishing the crime of sodomy; for preventing the defacing of churches; for shutting the stores and theatres on Sundays, and for other purposes:" the chief opposer of the bill declaring, on the legislative floor, "that such persecuting intolerance might well suit the New
England puritans, who were descended from the bigoted fanatics of Old England, who were great readers of the Bible, and, conséquently, IGNORANT, PREJUDICED, COLD-BLOODED, FALSE AND CRUEL; but could never be fastened on the more enlightened, liberal and philosophical inhabitants of Louisiana, the descendants of Frenchmen."-p. 394.
The system of public education (if system it may be called) is precisely what those precious fruits of it may be supposed to indicate. With other feelings than those of satisfaction we cannot but advert to the small number of books published in America, (where, as we learn from Mr. Bristed, the number of readers is so considerable,) which have any tendency to improve the mind or enlighten the understanding. It is true that many of our most popular writings are reprinted in the United States; but, if we might venture to judge at this distance, we should say that the valuable part of our productions are less widely disseminated than those of a light, a worthless, or a pernicious tendency. Ages may pass away before America will find either leisure or inclination for the study of Bacon, Locke and Newton; but in the interim fitter substitutes might surely be procured for them than the polluted trash of our Jacobinical press. The evil, however, is deeply rooted. In every part of this vast country, the institutions for education are evidently on too low a scale: they can do no more than create mediocrity in learning; and, indeed, till the country, by being more thickly peopled, causes a greater division of labour than yet exists, till there shall be a sufficient field for men of learning to acquire reputation and rank by their talents, independent of the pecuniary advantages which may or may not arise from them, America can scarcely be expected to make any very considerable advancement in literature. Meanwhile she may derive what consolation she can from the reflection that this low state of education, with all its concomitant vices, is the natural consequence of that spirit of republicanism on which she mainly prides herself. The early independence which it encourages has, according to Mr. Bristed, a most injurious and wide-spreading effect.
Strictly speaking, indeed, (he says,) there is no such thing as social subordination in the United States. Parents have no command over their children, nor teachers over their scholars, nor lawyers nor physicians over their pupils, nor farmers over their labourers, nor merchants over their clerks, carmen and porters, nor masters over their servants. All are equal, all do as they list, and all are free not to work, except the master, who must himself be a slave if he means his business to prosper, for he has no controul over any other head, eyes, or hands than his own. Owing, perhaps, to the very popular nature of our institutions, the American children are seldom taught that profound reverence for, and strict obedience to, their parents, which are at once the basis of domestic comfort and of the welfare of the children themselves. Of course,
where there is no parental authority there can be no discipline in schools and colleges. If a preceptor presume to strike or effectually punish a boy, he most probably loses at least one scholar, perhaps more. And, as no inconvenience attaches to a boy's being expelled from school or college, the teachers have no authority, nor learning no honour, in the United States.'-p. 459..
While America, with a perversity which cannot be too much regretted, has deserted her model in the grave and important instances which we have just mentioned, she has chosen to copy it in one of its most defective parts. Our system of poor laws is radically bad. There is scarcely a statesman or philosopher in this country who would advocate their re-establishment if they were once abolished. The conviction of the injury done by them to the industry, to the prudence, to the regard for reputation, to the charities of domestic life, and to the sobriety and honesty of the poor, is strong and universal, and the general study is, how to remove the evil with as little inconvenience as is compatible with the interests created by such long existing institutions, and with as little temporary suffering as possible. Whilst by ages of painful experience we have arrived at this conviction, America has just commenced the ruinous system; and is beginning to feel the evils which it must produce, and which will spread there with even greater rapidity than they have done with us.
'Some of our States,' says Mr. Bristed, 'particularly that of New York, have borrowed the English system of poor laws. On account of their extensive territory, comparatively with their population, abundance of employment and sustenance, the United States do not suffer so much from the poor laws as England. But as far as they go, they produce substantial evil unmingled with any good.'
This city (in which Mr. Bristed himself resides) contains about one hundred thousand inhabitants of various colours and countries. During the winter of 1817, fifteen thousand of them, he says, or one seventh of the whole population, received aid from the hand of public and private charity,' and the number of destitute poor' averaged an augmentation far exceeding the rate of its actual increase in population. Nor can it be concealed that the leprosy of wickedness and crime has tainted the lower class of citizens in an awful degree.' Here are three thousand houses licensed to sell spirituous liquors, and, in addition, great numbers of cellars and vaults where ardent spirits are vended without licences; whilst in London, with more than ten times its population, the number scarcely exceeds four thousand.
Whilst lamenting this dreadful aggregation of wretchedness, Mr. Bristed is not inattentive to the political effects which the laws thus blindly borrowed from us must inevitably produce.