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in the following treatise ? what of the antient conservators of the peace ? have the justices, on whom this whole power devolves an authority sufficient for the purpose ? in some counties, perhaps, you may find an overgrown tyrant, who lords it over his neighbours and tenants with despotic sway, and who is as regardless of the law as he is ignorant of it; but as to the magistrate of a less fortune, and more knowledge, every riotous independent butcher or baker, with two or three thousand pounds in his pocket, laughs at his power, and every pettyfogger makes him tremble.
It is a common and popular complaint, that the justices of peace have already too much power. Indeed, a very little is too much, if it be abused; but, in truth, this complaint proceeds from a mistake of business for power: The business of the justiceris indeed multiplied by a great number of statates; but I know not of any (the riot act perhaps excepted) which hath at all enlarged his power. And what the force of that act is, and how able the magistrate is, by means of the civil power alone, to execute it in any popular commotion, I have myself experienced. But when a mob of chairmen or servants, or a gang of thieves and sharpers, are almost too big for the civil authority to suppress, what must be the case in a seditious tumult, or general riot of the people ?
From what hath been said, I may, I think, conclude, that the constitution of this country is altered from its antient state.
2dly, That the power of the commonalty hath received an immense addition, and that the civil power having not increased, but decreased; in the sáme proportion, is not able to govern them. · What may and must be the consequences of this, as well as what remedy can be applied to it, I leave to the consideration of others : I have proceeded far enough already on the subject, to draw sufficient illwill on myself, from unmeaning or ill-meaning peo
ple, who either do not foresee the mischievous ten, dency of a totat relaxation of government, or who have some privare wicked purpose to effect from public confusion 2.0 ...In plain truth, the principal design of this whole work, is to rouse the Civil power from its present lethargic state. "A design, which alike opposes those wild notions of liberty that are inconsistent with all government, and those pernicious" sehemes of go. vernment which are destructive of true liberty. However contrary indeed these principles may seem to each other, they have both the same common interest'; or, rather, the former are the wretched tools of the latter; for anarchy is almost sure to end in some kind of tyranny.
Dr. Middleton, in his life of Cicero, brath a fine observation to my present purpose, with which I will conclude this Preface.
• From the railleries of the Romans (says, he) on the barbarity and misery of our island, one cannot help reflecting on the surprising fate and revolu
tions of kingdoms; how Rome, once the mistress ! of the world, the seat of arts, empire, and glory,
now. Jies sunk in sloth, ignorance, and poverty; enslaved to the most cruel, as well as to the most contemptible of tyrants, superstition, and religious impasture : wbile this remote country, antiently the
jest and contempt of the polite Romans, is becorre • the happy seat of liberty, plenty, and letters, fouTishing in all the arts and refinements of civil life;
yet running, perhaps, the same course, which Rome itself had run before it ; from virtuous industry to
wealth; from wealth to luxury; from luxury to an Simpatience of discipline and corruption of morals;
till, by a total degeneracy and loss of virtue, being 'grown ripe for destruction, it falls a prey at last
to some hardy oppressor, and, with the loss of Jj"berty, losing every thing else that is valuable, sinks gradually again into its original barbarism.'.
increase of robberies within these few years, is an evil which to me appears to deserve some attention; and the rather as it seems (though already become so flagrant) not yet to have arrived to that height of which it is capable, and which it is likely to attain ; for diseases in the political, as in the natural body, seldom fail going on to their crisis, especially when nourished and encouraged by faults in the constitution. In fact, I make no doubt, but that the streets of this town, and the roads leading to it, will shortly be impassable without the utmost hazard; nor are we threatened with seeing less dangerous gangs of rogues among us, than those which the Italians call the Banditti.
Should this ever happen to be the case, we shall have sufficient reason to lament that remissness by which this evil was suffered to grow to so great a height. All distempers, if I may once more resume the allusion, the sooner they are opposed, admit of the easier and the safer cure. The great difficulty of extirpating desperate gangs of robbers, when once collected into a body, appears from our own history in former times. France hath given us a later example in the long reign of Cartouche, and his ban
ditti ; and this under an absolute monarchy, which affords much more speedy and efficacious remedies against these political disorders, than can be administered in a free state, whose forms of correction are extremely slow and uncertain, and whose punishments are the mildest and the most void of terror of any other in the known world.
For my own part, I cannot help regarding these depredations in a most serious light; nor can 1 help wondering that a nation so jealous of her liberties, that from the slighest cause, and often without any cause at all, we are always murmuring at our superiors, should tamely and quietly support the invasion of her properties by a few of the lowest and vilest among us: doth not this situation in reality level us with the most enslaved countries? If I am to be assaulted, and pillaged, and plundered ; if I can neither sleep in my own house, 'nor walk the streets, nor travel in safety; is not my condition almost equally bad whether a licensed or unlicensed rogue, a dragoon or a robber, be the person who assaults and plunders me? The only difference which I can perceive is, that the latter evil appears to be more easy to remove.
If this be, as I clearly think it is, the case, surely there are few matters of more general concern than to put an immediate end to these outrages, which are already become so notorious, and which, as I have observed, seem to threaten us with a such à dan-gerous increase. What indeed may not the publick apprehend, when they are informed as an unquestionable fact, that there are at this time a great gang of rogues, whose number falls little short of a hundred, who are incorporated in one body, have officers and a treasury, and have reduced theft and robbery into a regular system. There are of this society of men who appear in all disguises, and mix in most companies. Nor are they better versed in every art of cheating, thieving, and robbing, than
they are armed with every method of evading the law, if they should ever be discovered, and an attempt made to bring them to justice. Here, if they fail in rescuing the prisoner, or (which seldom happens) in bribing or deterring the prosecutor, they have for their last resource some rotten members of the law to forge a defence for them, and a great number of false witnesses ready to support it. ?
Having seen the most convincing proofs of all this, I cannot help thinking it high time to put some stop to the farther progress of such impudent and audacious insults, not only on the properties of the subject, but on the national justice, and on the laws themselves. The means of accomplishing this (the best which suggest themselves to me) I shall submit to the public consideration, after having first enquired into the causes of the present growth of this evil, and whence we have great reason to apprehend its farther increase. Some of these, I am too well versed in the affairs of this world to expect to see removed; but there are others, which, without being over sanguine, we may hope to remedy; and thus perhaps one ill consequence, at least, of the more stubborn political diseases may cease.
SECT. I Of too frequent and expensive Diversions among the
lower Kind of People. FIRST then, I think, that the vast torrent of huxury, which of late years hath poured itself into this nation, hath greatly contributed to produce; among many others, the mischief I here complain of. I am not here to satirize the great, among whom luxury is probably rather a moral than a political evil. But vices no more than diseases will stop with them; for bad habits are as infectious by