Of crimes which disturb the Public Tranquillity.
Another class of crimes are those which disturb the public
tranquillity and the quiet of the citizens; such as tumults and riots in the
public streets, which are intended for commerce and the passage of the
inhabitants; the discourses of fanatics, which rouse the passions of the
curious multitude, and gain strength from the number of their hearers, who,
though deaf to calm and solid reasoning, are always affected by obscure and
The illumination of the streets during the night at the
public expense, guards stationed in different quarters of the city, the plain
and moral discourses of religion reserved for the silence and tranquillity of
churches, and protected by authority, and harangues in support of the interest
of the public, delivered only at the general meetings of the nation, in
parliament, or where the sovereign resides, are all means to prevent the
dangerous effects of the misguided passions of the people. These should be the
principal objects of the vigilance of a magistrate, and which the French call
police; but if this magistrate should act in an arbitrary manner, and
not in conformity to the code of laws) which ought to be in the hands of every
member of the community, he opens a door to tyranny, which always surrounds the
confines of political liberty.
I do not know of any exception to this general axiom, that
Every member of society should know when he is criminal and when
innocent. If censors, and, in general, arbitrary magistrates, be necessary
in any government, it proceeds from some fault in the constitution. The
uncertainty of crimes hath sacrificed more victims to secret tyranny than have
ever suffered by public and solemn cruelty.
What are, in general, the proper punishments for crimes?
Is the punishment of death really useful, or necessary for the safety or
good order of society? Are tortures and torments consistent with
justice, or do they answer the end proposed by the laws? Which is
the best method of preventing crimes? Are the same punishments equally useful
at all times? What influence have they on manners? These problems should be
solved with that geometrical precision, which the mist of sophistry, the
seduction of eloquence, and the timidity of doubt, are unable to resist. if I
have no other merit than that of having first presented to my country, with a
greater degree of evidence, what other nations have written and are beginning
to practice, I shall account myself fortunate; but if by supporting the rights
of mankind and of invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies
of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny, or of ignorance, equally fatal, his
blessing and tears of transport will be a sufficient consolation to me for the
contempt of all mankind.
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